The Terror of Isolation

I work in isolation. I don’t mean physical isolation – I have coworkers and we talk and go to lunch and do all kinds of coworker things. I work in physical isolation from other practicing database professionals. My manager is a former DBA, but he hasn’t worked with SQL Server newer than SQL 2005 and most of his experience is with SQL 2000 and Oracle as a developer. The vast majority of the time, this isn’t an impediment to what I do – I have IM, email, twitter, and forums to keep me immediately in touch with my peers. However, this becomes a problem when I want to bounce ideas off of someone.

Over the last month, I’ve been tasked with coming up with and implementing three new SQL Server installations. These are brand new servers that will have brand new drives and we’re starting from the ground up. For those of you who are production DBAs, this might be that terrifying, but keep in mind that 1) I’m primarily a database developer (development DBA, whatever) and 2) I’m a consultant. I’m being tasked with a decision that will last long after I’m gone from my client. While this may be old hat to some people, this is well outside of my comfort zone. Typically I say something like “write the biggest check you can.” Unfortunately, that’s not an acceptable recommendation.

What’s a lone data monkey to do?

I took to Google. Luckily Kendal Van Dyke had written a great set of articles about physical storage configuration. After reading through his series, I was able to determine our disk formatting requirements and justify them to the Windows administrators. I remembered that Rod Colledge had written a post about storage/SAN configuration that I had initially dismissed because “I’m a development DBA and I’ll never have to configure a SAN!” Thankfully I was able to track down Rod’s excellent article on storage configuration and, after a few questions on twitter, Brent Ozar took the time out of his day to answer some of my questions about SANs (turns out they aren’t magic boxes). Brent was kind enough to continue a back and forth conversation via email about my proposed SQL Server configuration. After outlining everything in detail, I was absolutely overjoyed to see the first sentence of his reply contain these words “you made a lot of good decisions there”.

Where the hell am I taking this feel good story?

Remember how I said I work in physical isolation? Well, I still do work in physical isolation. Having access to my RSS feeds, twitter, email, and forums makes that physical isolation a lot less apparent. I’m able to access the collective wisdom of a lot of experienced DBAs, take their combined wisdom, and synthesize a solution that meets the needs of my current situation. Would it have been a lot easier to sit down with someone over coffee and outline the situation and wait for recommendations? Yes. Would I have learned as much? No.

Why haven’t I actually said anything about the configuration we’ve ended up with? One, it’s not actually in place yet. Two, I need to write it up and get explicit approval from management before I release any information to the public. They are quite secretive about their configuration and schema and I can completely respect that. Hopefully, though, I will put the scenario together and will be able to share it with the world.