T-SQL Tuesday #46–The Rube Goldberg Machine

tsqltuesdayIt’s T-SQL Tuesday time again. This is the monthly blog party where we all write on a topic. This month the topic is the Rube Goldberg Machine, as it might relate to SQL Server. You can read the invitation linked above from Rick Krueger and write your own post if you choose.

Just be sure you post it on Tuesday, Sept 6, 2013.

Catching the Cheaters

A long, long time ago, in a county just to the west of here, I worked for a small company as a DBA. I had to support our production operations, as well as a team of 10-12 developers that were building our main company application. Since we were an ecommerce type company, this was an important application for the company.

We were working in an high incremental way, probably similar to an Agile methodology, and deploying changes every week. However when I started the deployments weren’t smooth. Our developers were handling them, often bumbling them a bit, but able to fix things in an hour since they had done the development.

Not a good separation of duties and it was becoming more of an issue as our boss wanted minutes of downtime, preferably single digits. I tracked down the main cause as a haphazard development style where changes were made to databases, instances, and IIS without much tracking going on. The IIS changes were easy: the developers had their rights removed from production and even test machines for configuration changes. However the database required a bit more work.

As this was SQL Server 2000, we had limited ability to audit and manage rights. We also required our developers to have rights to the development machines in order to create test databases and work on importing data. We also wanted to ensure that developers moved quickly, but I needed a way to keep control of the instance.

The first contraption I used was a simple one. I loaded the output of sp_configure into a table on the instance. I had created an administrative database that I used to track backups, and I added this information in there. I then created a job that would run sp_configure every day, compare the values to my table, and then alert me to changes. It would also update the table with the new, current values.

This allowed me to catch various changes that developers were making when they tinkered with the server to “make it run faster”. I didn’t prevent changes, and if their changes worked, we’d deploy them to test (and eventually production), but this allowed us to document them and be aware.

This worked well enough that I build a few more mousetraps. Catching schema changes is hard, as there isn’t good auditing in SQL Server 2000. However there is a “version” number for each object that is incremented when it’s changed. I built a similar audit/job system for our sysobjects table, but ran this every hour, catching changes. When I was alerted, which was more days than not, I’d email the team, track down the person changing things, and make a note for our current branch of work.

This worked great in that development wasn’t slowed, but I was able to account for all development changes and slot them into the current, or future, development deployments. In a few months we reduced our deployment time from about an hour every Wed night to less than 5 minutes.

Sometimes the mousetraps actually help the mice work better.

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