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Management of Database Systems Research, a précis

 Victoria Holt, Database Architect & Senior DBA at Eduserv and Database Researcher at The Open University.

IMG_9005 (2)In 2012, it was 50 years since the first functioning prototype of a database management system was built. Since then the management of database systems has significantly evolved. What was a simple management task has become much more complex. There has been a vast expansion of disparate ubiquitous data and the requirements of database systems to provide a variety of information has resulted in increased types of database engines and functionality from multiple companies.

These changes have resulted in products shipped to market with increasing speed. Organizations need to be continually considering upgrade paths for products or whether it is the best engine for the job to meet market demands. External consideration such as whether to make the jump from on premises, to cloud has challenges. These challenges exist within the technical as well as the business side. A business will be seeking to cut costs, to provide enhanced features, new features or to consider new engine types, all of which need to be learnt and fully understood.

At the heart of providing available, performant and recoverable database systems is database administration. Not all database engines are as advanced as others or offer varying tools or components to address different requirements. SQL Server for example provides a high level of tools, customisable features and different engines which aid in the management of database systems. These tools are however only part of the picture when it comes to providing a high level of quality management.

Administering databases on a day to day basis involves tasks such as designing the architecture for new database systems, making hardware changes, checking the data is secure and that backups are complete and can be restored, ensuring regular automated jobs succeed, carrying out application deployments, configuring new database server builds, monitoring production systems, managing data, and database development etc.

This proliferation of tasks often means dealing with other teams which add to the complexity. It is a system calling out for investigation.

We spend years perfecting our database management techniques however in the rapidly changing database arena this is not sufficient to help us manage data and databases successfully. I felt it necessary to delve further into the management of databases.  My doctorate research is entitled a Study into Best Practices and Procedures used in the Management of Database Systems.

This research is aimed at understanding how management of databases systems is undertaken, how those best practices and procedures form a part of the daily management process and exploring what, if any, complexities exist.

The study asks four questions:

  • To what extent are best practices and procedures utilised by the database community?
  • What are the complex interactions that are an integral part of the management of database systems?
  • Is the adoption of best practices and procedures affected by the complex interactions that are an integral part of the management of database systems?
  • How can a better understanding of the complex interactions contribute to improvement and innovation?

These four questions were formulated to drive the exploratory research.

Initially, the experience of people working in the database community were sought to clarify how today’s management systems were coping with the recent developments. A quantitative survey was undertaken to question various aspects of practices and procedures currently used, and whether these were best practices. 439 respondents from around the world took part in that survey. The results of some of the quantitative survey are published in a paper on ScienceDirect as part of the Journal Information Systems. In addition there is an Audio Slides presentation introducing the paper which can also be viewed on my research website where further findings will be released in due course.

Subsequently a further in depth study by means of a qualitative survey was undertaken to clarify the causes of many problems encountered in the management of database systems today. Data analysis is still underway for this part of the research.

This research has been an interesting journey to date to explore the hidden depths of the database management profession of which I hope to share more with you in the future.

 Data & the Quest for Understanding Complexity


Data's pioneering story continues to bring insight to the data and database world.

To find out more come along to SQL Bits and go on your own journey and also share and discuss data with Victoria who will be there!

Graphics by @DeepFat.