Craig S. Mullins

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September 2003





The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins  


Required Reading from the DBA's Bookshelf

To be a successful DBA, you must have an inquisitive mind and a desire to learn. Much of the DBA’s knowledge will be self-taught, especially in these days of austere budgets and cost cutting. One of the most cost-effective ways to learn something new is by reading. Fortunately, there is no shortage of excellent material for DBAs to choose from these days. There is a cadre of database books that every DBA should have on his or her bookshelf. I like to refer to these books as the "big four." First, we have The Relational Model for Database Management Version 2 (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-14192-2) in which Ted Codd, the inventor of the relation model, outlines the particulars of a relational DBMS. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but you can try to find it using the link above on

Next is Codd's one-time colleague Chris Date with his exhaustive and scholarly tome, An Introduction to Database Systems, 8th edition (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0321197844). Next is the authoritative work on database design from Candace Fleming and Barbara von Halle titled Handbook of Relational Database Design (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-11434-8). And finally, Fabian Pascal's book explains how to tackle some of the thornier issues of database management in his most recent book, Practical Issues in Database Management (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-48555-9).

Of a more recent vintage, I heartily recommend SQL Performance Tuning by Peter Gulutzan and Trudy Pelzer (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-79169-2). The authors have conducted tests of various SQL tuning techniques on multiple DBMSs, including DB2, SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, Sybase, and others. This book can help a DBA decide which tuning techniques will work for which DBMS.

More database applications are written in Java, so DBAs need to become more conversant in Java. The perfect way to do just that is to read George Reese's Java Database Best Practices (O'Reilly, ISBN 0-596-00522-9) a book just published in June 2003. When starting out with Java, it can be easy to get buried in an avalanche of acronyms (EJB, JDO, JDBC) and new technology. Reese's book will help you to navigate your way successfully through your Java database application design and development projects.

Finally, every DBA should have a good book on SQL. Actually, I have two recommendations in this category: SQL in a Nutshell by Kevin Kline with Daniel Kline (O'Reilly, ISBN 1-56592-744-3) and Introduction to SQL, 3rd edition by Rick van der Lans (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-59618-0). Kline's book is a great reference book for SQL syntax and covers SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, and PostreSQL. Rick van der Lans' book provides more examples and is useful for teaching how to write SQL queries.

Every DBA should have a good book or two covering each of the DBMSs in use at their organization. There are literally thousands of such books available for the three major DBMS products - DB2, Oracle, and SQL Server -- as well as quite a few on MySQL, too. For other DBMS products, there are fewer books, but you can find good ones by searching the Web and local book stores.

Finally, a DBA's bookshelf should not be limited to books covering database and data-related topics. Remember, a good DBA is a jack-of-all-trades and will need to be knowledgeable about many technology topics. DBAs should consider reading up on technology such as transaction processing, application servers, programming languages, operating systems, and networking, too.

From Database Trends and Applications, September 2003.

2003 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.