Art of the DBA Rotating Header Image


Professionals have standards

A couple weeks ago I wrote about establishing Service Level Agreements (SLAs) before you actually start building out a monitoring solution for your environment. These SLAs help you define what you need to be monitoring and give yourself some control when dealing with the non-DBAs in the company. Now that these expectations have been set on service, your next step is to define the other side of the equation: What you should expect from the databases you must manage. After all, we can promise a level of service, but it’s difficult to meet that promise if there are underlying issues with a database. So now we need to define database standards.

Remember that SLAs are agreements, where both sides have come to an understanding about service expectations. Once we have these, we have to tell developers and third party solutions what is required of them so that we can meet these expectations. Do you want to be saddled with another poorly designed database or not have the hardware to support your transaction load? With a standards document, we can give our non-DBAs clear and certain documentation of what our systems should look like.


Just like many other things we do as DBAs, we know what a good database looks like. The problem is no one else does. Many developers don’t understand the impact of not having a clustered index or the value of defining foreign keys. Executives get confused by disk requirements or backup strategies. Often, because they don’t know what we know, decisions will be made without these considerations. By providing documented standards, the folks who don’t “get it” don’t have to, they can refer to the standards document. If they don’t, we have that document to show them why we can’t support an application the way they want.

Unfortunately, standards are a little harder to define because there are just so many things to go in to what makes a database. This is why we want to start with an SLA framework, so we have some targets to use for building these standards out. We also need an understanding of our environments and what sort of systems our business can and will support (after all, we can’t all get PDWs). The key is to start with what you know and, as you start to lay out these requirements, your standards will start to fall in to place. Consider these examples as bread crumbs to get you headed in the right direction:

  • Database file layouts: Require separation of your database files, so that you can have documentation to back up disk requests for servers.
  • Naming standards: Keep your developers from creating those pesky “sp_” stored procedures. Also, help keep things organized across your environments.
  • Archiving: While you may not be able to explicitly define an archiving strategy, by putting requirements on what kind of data retention you can support , you can proactively manage your disk usage and performance.
  • Indexing strategy: Keep those heap tables from cluttering your database as well as provide guidelines to your developers so that they don’t over-index.

Keep in mind this is not anywhere close to an exhaustive list of what you can build standards on. It will probably take you a fair amount of work to construct your standards document, but it is effort well spent. Remember that you’re not only trying to educate the non-DBAs in your company, but providing a safety net as well for yourself.

The difference is…

We all hate documentation. It is tedious work that keeps us away from all the fun stuff. A lot of times, it feels like wasted work because who reads it, right? The thing is, people will read your documentation, if you make it available. You read a lot of blogs? That’s just us, documenting. So if you create your SLAs and standards and publish them internally, people will pay attention. And if they don’t? Well, you will have a starting point when you say “no”. “Sorry, that design is not supported by our published standards,” has a lot more weight when you actually have published standards.

The developers, the executives…they just want things to work, but they won’t give you what you need unless they know what you need. It’s your job to be proactive and create these policies, because no one else will do it for you. You hear it a lot, how you should be a proactive DBA, not the one that’s always fighting fires, and to do that you need a plan. SLAs and standards, these are your plan, and I challenge you to start on them today so you can take back control of SQL Server and your DBA life.

P.S.  Thematic content for the post headings can be found here (PG-13ish).