Database Change Management

Database configuration management tools allow us version the database and treat it like code! We want DevOps, not mysterious, hidden, hand crafted DBA (pet) ops whenever possible. Another flashback to 1998.

Self-taught DBA

In 1998, I was the co-founder of a start up named PassPoints, which provided private branded loyalty programs. PassPoints was an ASP (Application Service Provider) with web based integration for customer web sites. Today, the same practices have been formalized into more descriptive terms: Software as a Service with a RESTful API.

I was the de-facto system administrator and after talking to our developers, we chose to build the application in Java with the Sun-Oracle-Netscape stack. So I became a self-taught Oracle DBA (Data Base Administrator). I had some help from our developers who had worked at Oracle, but I was pretty much on my own to digest the Oracle TechNet documentation on CD-ROM and the web.

My progressive journey to infrastructure as code took me from two months to two hours to deploy the Oracle 8 relational data base:

  • two months to complete my first successful development database by hand
  • two weeks to perfect and document the process for a demo instance database
  • two days to create staging and start automating the process with shell scripts
  • two hours to complete making a production database instance with my automation.

Agile Databases

I may have gotten it faster, I don’t remember now, but restoring data to a new instance can be a lengthy procedure fraught with peril. This is a critical reason to make your database infrastructure agile and testable!

Along the way, I looked for tools to help visualize the database and perform upgrades: we paid for Oracle Enterprise Manager on Solaris and I found it helpful, but it was not valuable to me.

Database Configuration Management

I had accomplished configuration management for a new database instance through shell scripts, another artifact from the past! However, translating that accomplishment to using a configuration management system like Chef or Puppet is not where the DBA Ops journey should end.

I recently rediscovered an open source tool I used back then to visualize and map the database: – I think this would be a valuable post commit tool to add to a build system for up to date, valuable documentation of your relational data.

We need to treat the data inside the database as critical infrastructure as well! You cannot create an ephemeral test instance of your entire service with an empty persistence tier, you need to populate your database(s) with a proper schema and bootstrap data before you even begin testing.

Database Evolution

My last start-up was a polyglot development organization, which made QA and Operations challenging permutations, but this is the way of the world. It made us increasingly value automation because we did not want to scale people with manual work. One architectural choice was the Play 1 framework for Java. In their documentation, I never found mention that they had incorporated the Flyway open source project, but when I came across it on the web later, I already knew it intimately!

By using a simple meta-data table inside the database and ordered SQL statements in your code repository, you can keep your databases under version control. This is not practical for all of the data in your database, but it is essential for maintaining your schema and core data that you need across all instances of your databases.

The highest of the ordered SQL statements that has been applied is stored in the meta-data table. It is called the current evolution of the database. You application can roll out new or changed functionality and require the database be evolved to the proper version before it turns on.

Another notable feature: you can declare how to reverse this change to a database in order to devolve a database. There are destructive forward only operations, so this is not a perfect safety net, but it is a good design goal. There are some best practices mentioned here:

Database Change Management Tools

I have found some other tools that roughly model the database evolution methodology, but I only have experience with Flyway, which I think is excellent!

Dynamic Configuration

Knowing the release or version of your database is a component of dynamic configuration, allowing you to design forward and backwards compatibility of data, APIs, and features as well as dynamic control of feature roll out. Let’s use this for test driven operations, too!

More to Muse Upon…

I am sure that we borrowed another term for dynamic configuration at my last start-up. We discussed feature toggles, shipping features dark, and later turning them on by “lighting” them. Now there is an application start up (ASP? :~) for that = and there are a few competitors now who proclaim “death to staging!” This is a topic that should be expanded in the future.

I will review these links later and update this blog entry:

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