Oracle Tips and Tricks — David Fitzjarrell

January 20, 2012

At The Touch Of A Button

Filed under: General — dfitzjarrell @ 00:25
Tags: , ,

It intrigues me that some DBAs can be lost without tools like Oracle Enterprise Manager or TOAD, so much so that they can’t complete a task without a GUI. What makes this even more disconcerting is these DBAs can execute tasks that they may be unable to complete absent such tools. If what the tool does ‘behind the scenes’ is a mystery to the users it stands to reason that a user, using a GUI, could do some damage to a database by executing misunderstood tasks simply by pressing ‘buttons’.

When I started as a DBA [the earth’s crust was still cooling and dirt didn’t yet have its official name] there was the command line. That was it. Nothing else. No GUI, no OEM, no slick and nifty applications coded to make DBA life easier. A database was managed at the SQL> or SVRMGR> prompt (depending upon what needed to be done). Pretty graphs didn’t exist, alerts didn’t get generated unless the DBA wrote a script and scheduled it through cron (or the Windows scheduler) to check the database for space or memory or process count and send an email to the DBA should any of the acceptable criteria be violated. Yes, it was a hard life for a DBA, with all of that scripting and manual labor [typing is such back-breaking work]. A DBA had to know what commands did what and when to use them. A DBA also had to know where to excavate performance data, storage numbers, memory usage and user activity from the data dictionary by actually using the manuals and looking things up. Now tools like OEM, TOAD and others make it easy for someone to be a DBA by making most tasks as easy as ‘point and click’, which is a real disservice to the modern DBA, in my opinion.

What if other, daily tasks were modified so that even the uneducated could perform them? Would anyone want someone behind the wheel of a car who didn’t have any instruction at all in how to drive or operate the vehicle? Would anyone want a carpenter, plumber, electrician or mechanic performing any work with the newest power tools but having absolutely no idea how to operate them safely and properly? Clearly no one would want a surgeon operating with the latest gadgets but absent a medical degree. Yet, this is what allows people to be DBAs in the modern world — no knowledge of the intricacies of the database they manage, no knowledge of the commands necessary to perform basic functions such as adding a datafile to a tablespace, resizing a datafile in a database, adding a user account, creating roles, granting roles — the list can go on. Sit them in front of a GUI tool and explain the basics to them (“navigate here, press this button”) and they’re immediately DBAs. The prospect is disturbing.

It’s my privilege to know a number of really good DBAs in this world, DBAs who do know how to create a database, turn on and off archivelogging, restore and recover a database from a reliable backup, how to take reliable backups and do it all from the command line interface. These same DBAs use OEM, RMAN and TOAD to make their lives a bit easier, and I do the same thing so I see no issue with that. I also know (and know of) some DBAs who can’t do the job without OEM or TOAD — I’ve been told this in several interviews I’ve held when looking for additional DBA resources. Some of the most basic questions weren’t answered satisfactorily as I was given step-by-step directions on how to navigate to the page where that particular button resides instead of being told the commands necessary to complete the task in question. In an emergency situation OEM or TOAD may not be available and DBAs who don’t know the command line may be looking for another employer.

It’s my belief that enterprises who train DBAs need to concentrate not only on the tools but on the basic knowledge as well, educating their students not only in OEM but in how to go about managing a database absent those nifty tools. Understanding how the tool works only makes for better DBAs and frees them from being tethered to a graphical user interface, an interface they are dependent upon to perform the most basic and mundane of DBA tasks.

Education and training are demanded by society for teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, even insurance agents (not to disparage insurance agents). Why the industry doesn’t demand the same of DBAs is a mystery. [Certification, in many cases, is a requirement on the resume but ‘brain dumps’ and courses exist to ‘train’ those uneducated in the chosen DBMS so such ‘credentials’ can be acquired absent any real work experience. Many of these courses are centered around GUI management tools; sadly the underlying framework is glossed over in deference to learning to navigate the chosen graphical interface. Such an environment produces, in the Oracle arena, Oracle Certified Professionals completely absent any professional experience.] Yes, experience counts but if that experience is nothing more than a set of rote instructions on how to navigate a GUI tool how much worth does it bring to the employer? Not much, really.

Database administration is a respected profession, and most DBAs in the workforce are qualified and capable. Occasionally a few get through who meet the description I’ve given here. It’s those few I write about, and ask that they further their education and learn how their chosen DBMS works and how, in an emergency, to do their jobs absent any flashy graphic tools.

I don’t believe that’s too much to ask.


  1. Interesting to see all the job ads that list as requirements proficiency in 'tool X' but nothing about ability to design and implement data recovery and security policies or maintaining specific levels of high availability.SVRMGRL – the good ole days đŸ™‚

    Comment by thatjeffsmith — January 20, 2012 @ 13:23 | Reply

  2. So True! I'm also from post-svrmgrl era but was fortunate to have a top dba of the calibre you mentioned, who put me in good stead with cmd lines. Years on , and a couple of total power outages down the track, just a keyboard and fingers are still the ace up the sleeve! Thanks for the memories….

    Comment by Anonymous — March 22, 2012 @ 00:07 | Reply

  3. I can’t live without my scripts and sqlplus, my day to day is a black screen.

    Comment by Antonio — August 22, 2012 @ 15:11 | Reply

  4. How true! It’s about “NUTS-AND-BOLTS” or “POINT-AND-CLICK” DBAs. I also can’t live without my scripts and sqlplus and I have seen how much damage the “POINT-AND-CLICK” DBAs can do! I use Toad only to read databases, e.g. getting procedures source code rather than messing around with DBA_SOURCE, etc. Any DDL or even DML I perform via sqlplus only with full control of commit/rollback, etc. I have seen terrible thing the early versions of Toad doing to the database due to bugs (I bet they have all been fixed by now but I am not going to test it đŸ™‚

    Comment by Alex Mamyrin — October 4, 2012 @ 10:23 | Reply

  5. Thanks for sharing this. It matches my position exactly. I am 100% a GUI user, well, because I think my brain is too full to memorize all the syntax of the world. But I test, test, test. And I study those tools and options. I know the trade-offs. And I never* just point a GUI at a production server. How does one do test and deploy that way?

    Comment by karenlopez — March 14, 2013 @ 10:37 | Reply

  6. With respect, a GUI is a time saving tool, and allows display of poignant rich troubleshooting information when time is tight. We run clusters with flaky networks. I have had to more than once stand in front of a server rack and locally connect to a server to bring a boken cluster on line …..I dont weant to be a command line hero, I have enough demands on my time without having to be a trendy comamnd line nerd for the sake of it……core is great if you have paranoid security people, or a box that sits in the corner and does the same thing all day every day….yep fantastic. But for troubleshooting clustered environments and anything really complex, why make it even more troublesome by removing a useful GUI tool? Try copying files from disk to disk or bringing clustered disks on line via powershell…..and you will see my point. No way.

    Comment by Steve — June 16, 2015 @ 23:19 | Reply

    • Read the post again — never did I say to eliminate GUI tools, ever. What I DID say was that knowing nothing BUT ‘point and click’ doesn’t do a DBA any good; they have to know what the ‘buttons’ do behind the scenes. You have the right to your opinion but I think your take on what I wrote is wrong.

      What I DO know is wrong in your comment is the improper use of ‘poignant’ — I have yet to see any GUI provide heart-wrenching, sorrowful, mournful data or information. I almost deleted it as spam, for the spelling and grammar mistakes alone.

      Comment by dfitzjarrell — June 17, 2015 @ 08:14 | Reply

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