Iterations are not enough

Over at the SQL Server blogs, Andy Leonard wrote a nice article praising iterations. I’m often surprised at how often articles about SQL Server are relevant for Oracle DBAs when the databases are so different. This article however, is relevant for everyone. Not just DBAs, all developers.

I agree with Andy that software tends to improve with iterations. I know how I tend to have trouble when I start developing a new package or script, but once I get something written and start running it, debugging and improving as I go, the process becomes quicker and easier as the code gets better and better. Often, at the end, there is very little code left from the first iteration. Everything has been rewritten.

When I look at Oracle, though, I realize that iterations only go so far. There is some level of conceptual integrity, that requires a really strong up front design.

Conceptual integrity is not easy to define. Like beauty, quality and porn, you know it is there when you see it. When the different pieces of software work together in a way that really makes sense. When there are few basic concepts to the software, and when you get those you are rarely surprised by the software behavior, everything falls into place in a very understandable way.

Consider Oracle. No one could call Oracle simple, or easy to use. But, it is really not too complicated either. There is the SGA, cut up into buffer cache and library cache. There is the redo log and its archives. The control file, data files, undo space. Tablespaces and extents. Five basic background processes. You learn all that in a two day architecture course, and after that everything makes sense. Backup and recovery, IO issues, CPU use, locking and concurrency, ORA-01555, latches, everything you do as a DBA is really based on very few concepts. Oracle is really beautiful this way.

And I don’t think this simplicity can be achieved by iterations. It is perfected by iterations, many of them, and it is debugged in many many more iterations, but the ideas have to be in place first. The foundation that the building is based on. Without a strong foundation, the building will end up unstable, no matter how much you will polish and color the walls.

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3 Comments on “Iterations are not enough”

  1. Andy Leonard says:

    Hi Chen,

    Thanks for mentioning my post! Those thoughts actually interrupted sleep last night.

    Iterative development isn’t a silver bullet, but it proves useful in many cases. My hope is to add and augment our database development skillsets.

    When I was a developer, I worked with an Oracle database for about 1.5 years. I found the platform very elegant and still miss the Decode statement.

    It’s always a pleasure to read something like this – from someone who is passionate about their work.

    :{> Andy

  2. prodlife says:

    Hi Andy,

    I had to rescue your commend from WordPress spam filter, which is why it appears so late.

    As I wrote, I completely agree with what you wrote. Iterations improve software, just like experience improves the developer.

    Its nice to hear that you worked with Oracle. Maybe that explains why I enjoyed an article from SQL Server blogs 🙂


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