SQLServerCentral Editorial

Self-Service Databases

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When I first started work as a software developer, I knew that getting an environment set up where I could compile a project might take a few hours or a few days. The complexities of how people built software projects, the dependencies, and more were handled in a very immature manner. These days I can often download a project from GitHub and compile it in minutes, with many of the issues handled automatically with various tools such as complex config files and package managers.

In the world of database development, I often find people struggle to get a database set up with a project. Whether you are coding in SQL, C#, or Java, many organizations haven't got a standard way of bringing up a database environment for developers. Some have a shared database for a team, which can be better, but can also lead to collisions of code as the pressure to get software built grows and team size increases.

This leaves out the challenges of data, which can be changed by others, or lack the size/shape/skew to properly reflect what the production code has to handle. There are no shortage of bugs that come from incomplete data sets used in development that are unrepresentative of the live database.

Do you have a way for developers to self-service the database assets they need? Whether this is a new dev database, a refreshed one from prod, or even a point in time from development.  Is there a way developers can get a database into the state that matters for them. When developers are ready to work on a problem, the last thing we want is a significant delay to them getting started.

One of the things DevOps stresses is that we want to reduce friction and tedious, manual work were possible. Let the computer manage the tedious things. This should be how we manage those database environments. We also want some consistency among all developers, QA, CI, and any other environment, to ensure we can reproduce problems to troubleshoot issues.

The customers I work with that have the smoothest development processes, and best ROI from the resources spent on development, have a way to hydrate a consistent database environment for their developers. More importantly, the developers can self-service this. When a single developer, or a team, decides to reset their environment, they can do so, applying in-flight code changes from version control to bring back the database to the state it was previously in.

Application developers do this all the time, as they restart their application. Removing their abliity to change code, restart the app, test it, and observe results easily would be crippling. Yet, we rarely reset dev databases, and often, don't have consistency between environments.

Self-service is one of the key indicators of a mature software development organization. This is easily achievable for many app projects, but not simple for databases. Relatively few groups have figured out how to do this well, but those that do are much more productive and efficient than everyone else. Traits that are becoming more important in this highly competitive world with increasingly fickle customers.

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