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The Art of Being a Successful DBA – Finding Information Quickly

I have taught hundreds of people how to administer Oracle during my career as an Oracle instructor. For those of you just entering this profession, here is my most sage piece of advice:

“The hallmark of a good DBA is not knowing everything; it’s knowing where to look when you don’t.”

I thought it might be beneficial for us to review some of the various technical resources currently available to us. You’ll find a listing of my favorite authors, bloggers and websites in this blog. The list will also include my favorite educational websites of all time, Oracle Technet, the Oracle Knowledge Center and Oracle Metalink.

I have a LOT of books on Oracle. I am an avid Oracle book collector. I buy them, publishers send them to me to review, and I receive them as presents from co-workers and family members. I have been working with Oracle for over 22 years now. I have been using Oracle since Version 5 and I have kept every Oracle book, manual and instructor’s guide I crossed paths with during that time. Remember the old paperback manuals that Oracle sent to you with the software? I’ve got LOTS of them! I was certified by Oracle to teach virtually the entire DBA admin track and I have kept every version of every instructor’s guide I used (Version 7 to Version 10). As a result, my library consists of dozens and dozens (and dozens) of books on Oracle.

There is so much information available on Oracle that it tends to become overwhelming. How do you find that one facet of information, that one explanation you are looking for when you are confronted with seemingly endless sources of information? Here’s a hint, GO TO THE MANUALS FIRST.

Call me old school, but I still read the entire set of documentation for every new Oracle release. The order of the first few books is always the same: “New Features”, “Concepts”, “Administrators Guide”, “Reference”, “SQL Reference”, “Performance Tuning Guide” and “Data Warehousing Guide”. The remaining books are read in no particular order. It’s pretty much what I feel like reading at the time. When I was teaching, I always reinforced to my students that they needed to reference the Oracle manuals before moving on to other forms of documentation. I’ll read the “New Features” from cover to cover. For some of the others, it isn’t so much reading than scanning for changes.

A very experienced co-worker of mine was at a customer site installing an Oracle database on LINUX. He was reading the installation manual when the customer demanded to know why he was reading the manual when he was supposed to be “the high-priced expert.” He quickly replied “I’m reading the manual because I am an expert.” As your experience grows, you’ll find that you’ll become just like my co-worker, an avid user of the reference guides and not afraid to admit it.

Reference Manuals
I have seen many mistakes by DBAs picking the first release of the reference manuals they find on Technet. It is a much better practice to use the set of reference manuals for the release of the database you are administering. Oracle does have a tendency to change default values for object specifications. In addition, each new release contains new parameters that affect the database’s configuration. When you receive the latest and greatest version of Oracle’s database (one of the benefits of purchasing support), turn straight to the “OracleX New Features” section to find out what impact the new release will have on your daily administrative activities. You’ll also find many new features that haven’t been covered by Oracle’s new release whitepapers and marketing propaganda. I always find a half dozen to a dozen little-known features that aren’t widely publicized but very important to my organization.

Oracle Internal Resources
The Oracle websites contain a wealth of information on the Oracle product sets. The following Oracle websites are favorites of mine:

metalink.oracle.com - Oracle’s premier web support service is available to all customers who have current support service contracts. Oracle MetaLink allows customers to log and track service requests. Metalink also allows users to search Oracle’s support and bug databases. When you experience an Oracle problem, look up the return code (if one is provided) in the Oracle reference manuals. If you are unable to solve the problem, search Metalink using the return code or error message as the search criteria. The website also contains a patch and patchset download area, product availability and life-cycle information and technical libraries containing whitepapers and informational documents.

I’ve been able to solve 80% of my problems using the search feature. Here’s a couple of tips: make sure you specify “ALL SOURCES” when searching for problems, use the Advanced feature to narrow your search to specific products and remember that Oracle now adds a listing of products and asks you if you want to limit your search to them at the top of each search result set.

While you are on Metalink, click on the “Knowledge” tab. It will display the Oracle Metalink Knowledge Page. You will find that this page is a hidden treasure trove of information. You will need to drill down into the different sections under the “Knowledge” tab to retrieve all of the gems of information available. My personal favorite is the Tools and Training page. You need to spend some dedicated time on this section. The information here is priceless to those seeking to improve their Oracle knowledge. There are also 300 scripts available to choose from!

technet.oracle.com - Technet’s software download area allows visitors to download virtually any product Oracle markets. This website stores technical reference manuals for Oracle database releases 7 through 11, Oracle RDB, Oracle Gateways, Oracle Applications, Oracle Application server – the works.

The site contains links to many Oracle blogs  and has forums, sample code and tutorials. A quick and easy way to get access to the information you need. Visitors are also able to view Oracle discussions, download product whitepapers and obtain information on Oracle education. Can you tell that I love this site? YOU BET!

partner.oracle.com - If you are an Oracle partner, (and there are a lot of them), then this is the website for you. Oracle’s partner website contains information on partner initiatives and provides customized portlets categorized into partner activity and job role.

education.oracle.com - Oracle University’s web site contains information on Oracle education including course descriptions, class schedules, self-study courses and certification requirements.

When you go to education.oracle.com, look on the left side of the screen. You will see a link to the Knowledge Center. The Knowledge Center is Oracle’s online education portal. You can take dozens of online courses from Oracle’s experts. Want to learn from the people that wrote the code? This is the place that will allow that to happen.  The knowledge center states that it now offers over 3,000 online courses.   Well worth the fee Oracle charges.

There is a link on the right side of the Knowledge Center that says “Free Trial”.  Do yourself a favor – TRY THE FREE TRIAL . You will have to pay for a full-blown subscription, but the benefits the Knowledge Center provides are well worth the cost. Take the free trial and then weasel the money out of your company for a full subscription. Tell them you’ll work late, wash the boss’s car. As I said, it’s well worth it.

www.oracle.com - Oracle’s home page on the web. Contains white papers on Oracle features, product descriptions, etc.. Good place to get a high-level overview of the Oracle database’s bells and whistles.

External Resources
Non-Oracle websites are also excellent sources of information. The Internet has an abundance of web sites containing hundreds of scripts, tips, tricks and techniques. I often find myself heading straight to Google when I can’t quickly find the information I need on Metalink. Some of my favorites are:

asktom.oracle.com - Kyte maintains an Oracle Q&A website aptly titled “Ask Tom”. If you scan the Ask Tom website, you’ll quickly find that his primary method of simplifying complex technical concepts is to use a snippet of code as an example. Based on the positive responses he receives, the code examples work. They also work for me too. A great website.

jonathanlewis.wordpress.com - The Oracle Scratchpad by Jonathan Lewis contains his blogs, related musings, etc.. You can’t go wrong with the information that Jonathan provides. Two of my favorite websites are the Scratchpad and Ask Tom.

www.orafaq.com - Orafaq discussion forums are excellent sources of information. Post a question to hundreds of experienced Oracle DBAs and you’ll find out just how helpful Orafaq can be. Orafaq provides an intelligent search engine that visitors can use to search the discussion forums for topics of interest. The website also provides hints, tips, scripts and whitepapers.

www.oraclecommunity.net - I like this site because it provides you with more than just a dump of technical information.  It allows visitors and members to communicate with each other and discuss topics in an informal manner.    People introduce themselves to each other, exchange ideas, and inform others of upcoming events.   Nice site.

www.oracle.com/oramag – Oracle Corporation’s own technical magazine. Oracle Magazine provides readers with product announcements, customer testimonials, technical information and upcoming events. Oracle magazine is available in hardcopy and on the web.
Blogs and Wikis
What I like about blogs is that their free-form style makes them interesting to visit. Some blogs contain small snippets of information, while others are more like articles. I’ve always been grammatically long-winded by nature, so my blog is often longer than most. Wikis are collections of information that can be added and edited by the internet community. They are similar to a blog in structure but can contain the works from many different contributors.

Blogs that I like are:
wiki.oracle.com/page/List+of+Oracle-related+blogs – Not actually a blog, but a Wiki that contains dozens (and dozens) of different blogs. If you can’t remember that blogger’s name, you should be go down through the list and hopefully it will jog your memory

www.petefinnigan.com - Pete Finningan’s Oracle Security blog and general Oracle information. More than just a blog, the website has whitepapers, discussions, scripts, Oracle news….

richardfoote.wordpress.com - Not just because his last name is like mine. The guy is an index and performance GURU. Lots of mini presentations to choose from.

feuerthoughts.blogspot.com - Oracle PL/SQL language. I’m absolutely terrible at coding anything (all that IF-THEN-ELSE-OTHERWISE-GOTO-EXIT stuff drains me). I go to his site to attempt to improve my PL/SQL skill sets. If his teachings can’t help, no one’s will. Excellent writer and creator of some pretty neat tools. Make sure you traverse the links to his various PL/SQL pages. Tons of great information.

Book Recommendations
Third-party books are another excellent source of information. The big advantage third-party books have over the technical reference manuals is that technical reference manuals must provide all of the information on the entire Oracle environment while third-party books are able to focus on just what the author felt was important. If you choose a good author, you’ll learn quickly.

Instead of listing books, I’ll provide you with my favorite authors. You’ll have the best chance of buying a great book if you select one from the following authors: Thomas Kyte, Jonathan Lewis (his book titled “Cost Based Oracle Fundamentals” is one of my favorites), Arup Nanda, Craig Mullins, Michael Abbey, Michael Corey, George Koch, and Kevin Loney.

Oracle Press Books provides a lot of great Oracle titles and Appress Publishing also comes to mind as having a great set of Oracle literary offerings.

Wrapup
I hope you enjoyed this brief discussion on where to find Oracle information. Don’t attempt to remember everything about Oracle just try to remember the best place to look when you need information. It’s out there!

Thanks for Reading,

Chris Foot
Oracle Aceace_2
Director Of Service Delivery

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