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Don Burleson Blog 








Dangerous Dilettantes Destroy Databases

Oracle Database Tips by Donald Burleson


A magazine reporter recently asked me what the "gotchas" were for Oracle11g, and I was hard-pressed to give an answer.  Oracle is the world's most sophisticated database, and in the properly trained hands, it's the most robust and flexible database on the planet.  But in inexperienced hands, Oracle's powerful tuning tools are like giving a loaded gun to a child


Back before Oracle introduced their easy GUI interfaces and intelligent advisors, it was much more difficult for neophytes to "pose" as Oracle experts and human error was much lower than it is today.  Lured by the promise of glamorous work and high pay, thousands of inept people (without any formal education in either IT or computer science) are flocking into Oracle technology.  Oracle's easy front-end tools have enabled low-aptitude neophytes to enter the booming DBA job market, often with disastrous results.


The lucrative lifestyle of the Oracle profession attracts thousands of inept dilettantes


It can be very difficult to spot an inept or reckless Oracle professional, and my company does a booming business in helping corporation vet potential job candidates.  The influx of inept and reckless Oracle professionals is due to several factors:

  • Expanding demand - As the need for computer professionals outstripped supply, desperate companies were forced to lower their hiring standards. 

  • No barriers to entry - Unlike other professions that require licensing and certification (e.g. Engineers, Accountants, Architects), anyone can hang out a shingle proclaiming themselves to be an experienced DBA. 


The root cause of unplanned Oracle outages


In this age of unbreakable Oracle and super-reliable hardware, human error is responsible for the vast majority of Oracle outages.  I agree with Oracle Corporation that human error is the single greatest threat to database stability, but I see rates far higher than 79%.  In my experience supervising an Oracle emergency support center, I see a percentage closer to 95%.  In a bull market, reckless or inept Oracle professionals are hired and placed into job far beyond their experience level.



The problem of inexperience and human error has several root causes.  On one hand we see desperate job candidates who "puff" their job experience, often claiming that their unpaid years of dabbling with Oracle on a PC constitutes real experience. 


Oracle "posers" can be hard to spot at the job interview


Sadly, the problem is getting worse, and we see an alarming increase in willful deception, "fake Oracle experts", whose goal is to fleece the unsuspecting IT shop.  Lying and deception are becoming commonplace as I show in my notes on evaluating Oracle professionals for dishonesty.


While some questionable Oracle experts carefully hide their resumes and verifiable work history, others resort to outright deception, like scum who create fictional Oracle experts, complete with a photograph and convincing credentials! 


"My name is Robert Allen, and I?m the Founder of OraSecure, Inc.  With over 9 years of trial and error from painstaking research, I?m now acknowledged as a promising top expert in the field of Oracle database security.

For the past 7 years, I've consulted dozens of Fortune 1000 companies on all areas of Oracle Database Administration.  The areas I've focused my most attention to are Oracle Security Features and Security Audits. 

I've personally audited over 400 Oracle instances over the years, as well as taught and mentored more than 80 DBAs to do the same."


Read here from eWeek how I helped to uncover this scammer.


But fakers aside, the real danger are the dilettantes and neophytes whose naive use of Oracle's powerful productivity tools can cause great damage to mission-critical Oracle systems.


The double-edged sword of easy interfaces


In my experience doing Oracle emergency support I see case after case where a script kiddie has blindly run a powerful Oracle script, just to "see what it does", crashing an entire database!

Note:  You have heard the old saying "Damning with feint praise", but the major gotchas of Oracle 11g is more like "Praising with feint damn" because the main pitfall of Oracle is also one of its greatest strengths.

Over the past five years Oracle has been introducing powerful automation and advisory tool to relieve the tedium for the busy DBA.  But unfortunately these tools, while useful for the experienced DBA are very dangerous those without the proper education and training:

OEM - Someone with little or no knowledge of Oracle can click merrily away, dropping tablespaces and deleting schemas with free abandon.

SPA - The Oracle 11g SQL Performance Analyzer is an amazing holistic tuning tool, but it's extremely dangerous for the neophyte. 


Oracle Performance Pack - The Oracle performance pack requires a deep knowledge of the principles of proactive Oracle tuning, stochastic methods and multivariate correlation analysis, not to mention an in-depth knowledge of the machinations of Oracle's "Silver Bullet" tuning knobs.

In experienced hands, these are amazing tools which can increase Oracle performance many times over, but they can easily be abused, often with disastrous results.


Another problem with Oracle is the ease that inept people can get copies of Oracle 11g to "play with".  Oracle makes it very easy to download their database, yet this benefit also has the unintended side-effect of encouraging beginners to get-in over their heads, far beyond their experience level.


These inexperienced DBA's" can be very dangerous when using the powerful Silver Bullet techniques, and I've witnessed the carnage when when dilettantes use Oracle intelligent advisors that are smarter than they are!  


As a responsible author, I have a stern warning to junior DBA's about about getting in over your head.  The holistic techniques in "Oracle Silver Bullets", are intended only for experienced Oracle DBA's, working professionals who understand the holistic concepts of Oracle tuning.  To learn best practices for Oracle tuning, see my book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference".


But we must remember that even the most well-read students can be dangerous.  There is no substitute for years of real-world work experience to fully appreciate the power of Oracle.


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Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

Verify experience! Anyone considering using the services of an Oracle support expert should independently investigate their credentials and experience, and not rely on advertisements and self-proclaimed expertise. All legitimate Oracle experts publish their Oracle qualifications.

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