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7 Things DBAs Should Do Before Going On Holiday

Thanks to 2020, many of us don't remember the last time we took a holiday or vacation. If you were able to get away from the office, kudos to you. Hopefully, 2021 will be kinder to us, and we can take some time to recharge. Whether you're a veteran DBA standing watch over million-dollar, mission-critical database systems or a jack-of-all-trades who maintains your organization's SQL Servers, Windows Servers, and all the other corporate IT assets, everyone deserves to take a relaxing holiday. Some individuals like interruptions during a holiday because it makes them feel important. But most of us don't want to be interrupted unless a serious issue needs immediate attention. So, what are some steps we can take to help our customers and coworkers validate their issue as serious before getting us involved?

Sometimes It's Technology, Except When It's Not

There are two ways to prepare for a peaceful and uninterrupted holiday: technology and process. The former involves things we can do with our databases to make our lives easier while away from the office, while the latter are steps we can take in advance to reduce the need for our coworkers to call us. Before vacation, be sure you've got these items checked off your list:
  1. Ensure there’s plenty of room on the disks where all your databases and transaction logs reside, so that they can auto-grow as needed while you’re out of the office (OOTO). This easily preventable problem crops up annoyingly often.
  2. Just because you have a backup of a database doesn't mean it's fully recoverable. The only way you can be sure a backup is recoverable is to actually recoverthe darned thing. So, take the time to verify your backup jobs are fully recoverable well in advance of your holiday. Once completed, make sure there’s ample room on the backup drive(s) for all the backups that will occur while you are away.
  3. Review your automated jobs. Write a note for your coworkers explaining any special end-of-period (month, quarter, year) processes that might need special babysitting or validation and how to handle those situations. Review any SQL Agent jobs you often must manually deal with when they fail and further explain the likely outcomes and solutions for your coworkers.
  4. Make sure you've got database mail and SQL Agent alert notifications configured and working properly for high-severity error conditions. This way, SQL Server can tell you when there's a problem, rather than relying on the telephone to know when issues arise. When you define the SQL Agent operator who gets the emails, ensure they go to a team inbox or list of people. That way, you have coworkers acting as your backup and can rotate on-call during a particular holiday. Tim Radney has a great post about how to do this, including a useful, reusable T-SQL script on com.
  5. Ensure no code releases or other system updates are planned during your vacation. This includes software updates, hardware upgrades, or security patches. Conversely, make sure everyone who relies on you during troubleshooting situations knows in advance you’ll be OOTO. Some people think it's okay to tell only their boss when they're going on holiday. No. Just no.
  6. Set an email auto-reply indicating how long you'll be OOTO and who to contact in the interim. This step seems elementary, but not everyone does it.
  7. Setting an email auto-reply is part of a good Escalation Process. An equally important best practice is to create a Disaster Recovery (DR) runbook, also known as a playbook. Your DR runbook is a set of step-by-step instructions for coworkers who might have to do an emergency recovery or other known critical fix, such as manually failover a server in an AG cluster. If you don't have a DR runbook, write a quick summary of "things to do first" while you're away—your personal FAQ if you will. For example, suppose you have an application with occasional debilitating blocking chains. In this case, you would do well to write up the steps needed to kill a blocking SPID for your coworkers to use in an emergency. Make sure you have an escalation process in place for who to call when you're out.
Naturally, these steps can't prevent a problem from happening. But they can significantly reduce the number of common and easily fixed problems that might make it past your coworkers and end up interrupting your vacation holiday. And if you haven't already taken these steps in the past, they add value to your organization's IT best practices all year round. It's the gift that keeps on giving! Finally, if you haven't already set up a monitoring system, now would be a great time to do so. Collect data while you’re gone to see everything that happened and how it impacted performance while you were away. You can even set up alerts to notify you or your team of anything critical while you’re out of the office.
Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline is a Head Geek, noted database expert, and software industry veteran. As a 13-time Microsoft Data Platform MVP and with 35 years' experience…
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