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Monitoring your database for maximum performance

(Image credit: Future)

Databases are everywhere, but they are particularly prevalent in the modern enterprise. As the world of data continues to evolve, businesses depend heavily on databases to store and manage vast amounts of company data. Whether they’re connected to a mission-critical application or helping a single user carry out a specific task, databases must be well maintained in order to provide high performance and support important business functions.

Proactively monitoring databases is one of the best ways to ensure a smooth long-term operation with minimal downtime and predictable costs. By using monitoring tools, businesses can track the performance of both hardware and software by taking frequent snapshots of performance indicators. This highlights any changes, identifies bottlenecks, and pinpoints the exact moments at which problems started to occur. With this information to hand, businesses are then able to rule out potential causes, and get to the real root of the issue.

Broadly speaking, database monitoring consists of three layers:

  • The operating system and the hardware

This layer inspects input, output, memory utilisation, network utilisation, Central Processing Unit (CPU), physical disk space, and component status.

  • The server software

This examines Data Manipulation Language (DML) and Data Definition Language (DDL) statements in logs, wait time, users, objects, whether backups run successfully, and whether replication is running.

  • Individual SQL statements or queries

This examines throughput, latency, concurrency/load, and how errors are being dealt with.

Types of monitoring tools

Many different database monitoring tools exist, but the best solution depends entirely on an organisation’s needs. For example, some businesses might want to put a focus on addressing database problems in real-time, some might want a monitoring tool that boasts a sizeable SQL monitoring ability, and others might be looking for a combination of network, server and applications monitoring. Before investing in these tools, businesses should consider their specific environment and install the applications that best suit their requirements.

Database monitoring tools often fall into four categories:

  • General purpose monitoring

General purpose monitoring tools offer a little bit of everything. These tools monitor a wide range of components: servers, databases, services, and sometimes networking. General purpose monitoring capabilities typically scrape status metrics from the server and store them in a time series database for charting and trending. They often have the ability to send alerts based on thresholds, and shine when you want to use one tool to monitor as many things as possible.

  • Reporting and administration

Reporting and administration tools focus on the needs of database administrators or operations teams, who need to report on database activity or manipulate databases. Needs can vary widely, such as trying to develop a specific report or make administrative changes that can result in adding users, data types, or modifying objects like tables, stored procedures, schema and indexes. These tools allow for ad hoc interactions, like querying the database, to run a report or edit the data directly in a table.

  • Query performance

Query performance monitoring is important for optimising queries/SQL statements and the broader user experience associated with an application. Understanding the totality of the different types of requests that users and applications are sending to the database, such as background activity, vacuuming, and backups, adds up to the resulting performance of the database.

Different tools specialise in different aspects of query performance. Some tools are useful for proactively diagnosing performance problems. Others can diagnose slow running queries or analyse log files.

  • Health checks and alerting

Running regular health checks and setting up alerts is a critical database monitoring function. This can be done by installing programmes with plugins that execute quick status checks and report on whether something is okay, whether it has a warning, or if it’s in a critical condition. Some health-check tools also incorporate general purpose monitoring with graphing and charting to provide further insight into the ‘health’ of the database.

Optimise your resources and improve the user experience

No matter what tools are employed, a strategy to monitor your database is essential to keeping it running like a well-oiled machine. But what specific benefits do these monitoring tools provide?

Among the low-level benefits, database monitoring allows for better time and resource utilisation. By monitoring disk space, for instance, you can see when an application begins to require more disk space and incorporate those needs into future capacity planning. For mission-critical applications, backups can be monitored to ensure they are available and concurrent, and checked for any types of latency issues when running on standby. From a performance perspective, database monitoring can also tell application developers whether queries are being resolved in seconds or milliseconds as opposed to multiple seconds.

The high-level benefits of database monitoring help deliver the ultimate goal — a better user experience. A high-performing database plays a fundamental role in releasing better products to market. Database monitoring also makes it possible to manage costs — not necessarily to save money, but to anticipate overall spending and budget accordingly. Finally, database monitoring can identify issues as they come up to avoid work stoppages and downtime.

Who will benefit?

Many different departments within an organisation will benefit from implementing database monitoring tools. These include:

  • Developers

A developer’s focus is primarily on application development. Database monitoring tools can assist in this process by identifying slow running queries that are negatively impacting the user experience.

  • Database reliability engineers (DBAs)

Monitoring tools can assist the DBA’s role of database administration by managing users, backups, tables/objects, and tuning the database to optimise performance.

  • Operations

Those that work in Operations management will mostly focus on Day 2 activities, such as maintenance and planning. Monitoring can help identify which servers need to be patched or upgraded and to forecast hardware or infrastructure changes.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to monitoring databases. Different tools offer different specialities, and organisations must understand where their priorities lie on the spectrum of general visibility, administration, query performance and alerting, to determine which tools best suit their needs.

Ultimately, successful database monitoring is a fundamental contributor to overall business success. With the right set of monitoring tools matched to the organisation, a business can ensure that their database is delivering quality performance around-the-clock.

Bhavani Rao, Senior Product Marketing Manager, EnterpriseDB