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Nothing wrong with databases with experience

There is nothing wrong with managing databases in somewhat older environments. On the contrary, these are applications that keep a lot of companies afloat. But you have to pay attention to a number of things. Roland van Veen, OptimaData DBA and Database Reliability Engineer, explains what those things are in this blog.

OptimaData’s multi-platform strategy certainly includes managing databases in somewhat older environments. That may not seem as exciting and therefore may not come into focus as often, but that doesn’t make the work any less important. On the contrary, it more than often involves applications that keep companies afloat.

Key words for now are not “shiny new,” “flashy tools” and “hot off the press” – we have written plenty of other blogs about that, of course – but “experience,” “reliability” and “soundness. These three words refer not only to the software environment, but also to the capabilities of the developers and administrators. But what should you pay attention to when dealing with a somewhat older environment? Roland van Veen, OptimaData DBA and Database Reliability Engineer, takes you through the process.

1 Value your workhorse and keep taking care of it

Don’t look at your environment as some kind of legacy, waiting to die somewhere. It is your reliable workhorse that should – and can – last a while longer, and value it that way. What is considered legacy today may have an entirely different value tomorrow. For example, today we are seeing a revival of relational databases, but with multi-model capabilities.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should sit still. Keep evolving your environment, stay on top of product modifications, end-of-life data and migration paths. In doing so, start with common problems where the risk to users is high and make hidden risks visible.

2 Take advantage of the opportunities

It can be very rewarding to spread out depreciation over several more years. Review this every year. That gives you time to get to know a next generation of software well while also responding quickly to needed changes to the current platform.

There are advantages to being able to read and write with your environment rather than having to constantly run after new knowledge. Moreover, database skills are reusable if you pay some attention to them. Be thrifty with experience while giving room for self-development.

Moreover, by doing so, you create opportunities for aspiring DBA consultants or DevOps practitioners to develop the right competencies in the important field of “experience,” “reliability” and “soundness.

Possible disadvantages

Of course, such a slightly older environment also has its drawbacks.

  •  Costs

The costs of such a platform may be higher than those of a new environment. Consider licensing costs compared to open source or other cost models such as those used in the cloud, for example.

  • Look ahead

Older software may at some point no longer be adaptable to new standards, so security breaches lurk, as do problems with interconnections, drivers or inability to meet new operating system requirements.

  •  Attracting talent

With an older, less current environment, it can become more difficult to find administrators and developers.

3 Do not stand still

Never stand still, modernize and optimize your environment even if it is on the threshold of retirement. Pay attention to availability, continuity and security.

  • For performance problems, you can look at sharing, partitioning or other forms of storage.
  • Manage the data lifecycle. This may be related to performance, for example, if you have a lot of infrequently used data online.
  • Also pay attention to data quality – a hot topic in 2020; the older a database, the more cluttered it often is. Adjustments, workarounds and bugs pile up, and those data errors result in application errors or misinformation.
  • Get good documentation that is easy to access: not a thick pill in a DBA consultant’s drawer, but a wiki or collaboration software like Confluence.
    Evaluate all those features that your “legacy” database has added over the last ten years. Often not all of them are used by a long shot. It’s like your toolbox; it’s already loaded and still you buy that new wrench set.
  • Look at the hardware, too. Often modern hardware offers ssd storage, more memory or many more CPU cores. Make sure it works together, though.
  • Modernize management. Consider automation, version control and making it DevOps-capable.
  • Deal smartly with database changes. For example, do short “smoke tests” or SQL unit tests.

To migrate or not to migrate? That’s the question

Migrating to another database platform, operating system or cloud platform is an option, but the effort required to do so depends heavily on the application. Are you working with an older environment and wondering if you can still move forward for a while or if it’s time to migrate? Feel free to contact us! We are happy to think along with you.