|Last updated: 02 December 2007
Interview questions for ASE DBAs
page contains some suggestions for questions to ask when
interviewing an applicant for a Sybase ASE DBA job. There are
also some questions the candidate might want to ask
before (s)he takes the job (see the end of this page).
Please bear in mind that these are just some suggestions
which I personally think are relevant. I'm certainly not
claiming that these are the "best" or "most
representative" questions you could ask. You could
use these as a starting point and add further questions
of your own.
The questions are listed here. They are repeated, with answers, below. At the bottom of this page, there are also some questions
for a candidate DBA to ask a potential future employer.
- What are the most important DBA tasks?
- What should you do when you find a stacktrace in the server errorlog?
- Is there any disadvantage of splitting up your application data into a number of different databases?
- Is it necessary to drop & recreate all procedures and triggers every few months?
- What are the main advantages and disadvantages of using identity columns?
- What do you do when the server can't start due to a corrupt master database?
- When you do a BCP-in from a file to a table, what happens to triggers, constraints, rules and defaults on that table?
- How do you BCP only a certain set of rows out of a large table?
- What's the difference between managing permissions through users and groups or through user-defined roles?
- Is there any advantage in using the 64-bit version of ASE instead of the 32-bit version?
- Is it a good idea to use datarows locking for all tables by default?
- What would you do when the ASE server's performance is bad?
- What do you do when a segment gets full?
- Are timestamp columns good candidates for primary keys? (since they're always unique for a row)
- Does the DBA candidate hold a Sybase Certification?
to ask a candidate DBA
are the most important DBA tasks ?
In my opinion, these are (in order of
importance): (i) ensure a proper database/log
dump schedule for all databases (including master);
(ii) run dbcc
databases regularly (at least weekly), and follow
up any corruption problems found; (iii) run
update [index] statistics
least weekly on all user tables; (iv) monitor the
server errorlog for messages indicating problems
(daily). Of course, a DBA has many other things
to do as well, such as supporting users &
developers, monitor performance, etc.
should you do when you find a stacktrace in the
server errorlog ?
Open a case with Sybase TechSupport. There's not
much you can do yourself with this information,
and only TechSupport has the information to
determine whether it's related to a bug, for
example. It's not a good idea to ignore such
things in the errorlog -- 'cos it might indeed
indicate you're hitting a bug.
there any disadvantage of splitting up your
application data into a number of different
When there are relations between tables/objects
across the different databases, then there is a
disadvantage indeed: if you would restore a dump
of one of the databases, those relations may not
be consistent anymore. This means that you should
always back up a consistent set of databases;
however, this may be difficult when the system is
continuously in use, because a single database is
the unit of backup/restore. Therefore, when
making this kind of design decision, backup/restore
issues should be considered (and the DBA should
it necessary to drop & recreate all
procedures and triggers every few months ?
No; in older Sybase versions (4.x), this
was sometimes necessary, as query plans could
grow bigger over time, hit an upper limit at some
point and cause an error. Both the growing plan
and the limit have been removed since at least
version 11.0 (or was it already fixed in 10 ? -- I'm not sure...).
are the main advantages and disadvantages of
using identity columns ?
The main advantage of an identity column
is that it can generate unique, sequential
numbers very efficiently, requiring only a
minimal amount of I/O. The disadvantage is that
the generated values themselves are not
transactional, and that the identity values may
jump enourmously when the server is shut down the
rough way (resulting in "identity gaps").
You should therefore only use identity columns in
applications if you've adressed these issues
for more information about identity gaps).
do you do when the server can't start due to a
corrupt master database ?
You create a new master device using
buildmaster (on 12.5, use dataserver instead); create a RUN_SERVER file and start
the server in single-user mode (using the -m
option); then manually add an entry for
SYB_BACKUP in sysservers; and then load a
database dump of the master database. After that,
the server will automatically shut down; restart
it and see if your application databases are
To turn up the heat a bit: what if you're
using a non-default character set or sort order ?
In this case, things are more complicated: you'll
first need to create sybsystemprocs and change
the sort order/charset of newly created master
database before loading the master database dump
(thanks to John Langston for this one).
you do a BCP-in from a file to a table, what
happens to triggers, constraints, rules and
defaults on that table ?
For both fast BCP and 'normal' BCP, triggers,
constraints and rules are ignored. Defaults will
be effective though
for a nasty, but little-known side effect).
do you BCP only a certain set of rows out of a
large table ?
If you're in ASE 11.5 or later, create a view for
those rows and BCP out from the view. In earlier
ASE versions, you'll have to select those rows
into a separate table first and BCP out from that
table. In both cases, the speed of copying the
data depends on whether there is a suitable index
for retrieving the rows.
the difference between managing permissions
through users and groups or through user-defined
The main difference is that user-defined roles (introduced
in ASE 11.5) are server-wide, and are granted to
logins. Users and groups (the classic method that
has always been there since the first version of
Sybase) are limited to a single database.
Permissions can be granted/revoked to both user-defined
roles and users/groups. Whichever method you
choose, don't mix 'm, as the precedence rules are
there any advantage in using the 64-bit version
of ASE instead of the 32-bit version ?
The only difference is that the 64-bit version of
ASE can handle a larger data cache than the 32-bit
version, so you'd optimize on physical I/O.
Therefore, this may be an advantage if the amount
of data cache is currently a bottleneck. There's
no point in using 64-bit ASE with the same amount
of "total memory" as for the 32-bit
version, because 64-bit ASE comes with an
additional overhead in memory usage -- so the net
amount of data cache would actually be less for
64-bit than for 32-bit in this case.
(Just for clarity: the 64-bit version is not
twice as fast as the 32-bit version, and does not
perform its I/O at double the size of the 32-bit
version (I once heard someone state these as
it a good idea to use datarows
locking for all tables by default ?
Not by default; only if you're having concurrency
(locking) problems on a table, and you're not
locking many rows of a table in a single
transaction, then you could consider datarows
locking for that table. In all other cases, use
either datapages or allpages
(I personally favor datapages
locking as the default lock scheme for all tables
because switching to datarows
locking is fast and easy, whereas for allpages
locking, the entire table has to be converted
which may take long for large tables. Also, datapages
locking has other advantages over allpages,
such as not locking index pages, update
statistics running at level 0, and the
availability of the reorg
would you do when the ASE server's performance is
"Bad performance" is not a very
meaningful term, so you'll need to get a more
objective diagnosis first. Find out (i) what such
a complaint is based on (clearly increasing
response times or just a "feeling" that
it's slower?), (ii) for which applications/queries/users
this seems to be happening, and (iii) whether it
happens continuously or just incidentally.
Without identifying the specific, reproducable
problem, any action is no better than
do you do when a segment gets full ?
Wrong: a segment can never get full (even
though some error messages state something to
that extent). A segment is a "label"
for one or more database device fragments; the
fragments to which that label has been mapped can
get full, but the segments themselves cannot. (Well,
OK, this is a bit of a trick question... when
those device fragments full up, you either add
more space, or clean up old/redundant data.)
- Are timestamp columns good candidates for primary keys? (since they're always unique for a row)
Absolutely not, this would be a bad thing to do; timestamp columns are actually a bit too unique to be used as a primary key. For details, see the quiz question for August 2004.
the DBA candidate hold a Sybase Certification ?
If (s)he has, consider that a plus !
for a candidate DBA to ask your potential future employer
you're being interviewed for a DBA vacancy, there are
some things related to the DBA environment you
might want to know as well. I'd suggest to check out at
least the following:
the company have a Technical Support contract
with Sybase ?
A support contract is required for getting EBFs
and for being able to ask questions about
technical problems. Without a support contract,
you're completely on your own; you should ask
yourself if your can fulfill the company's
expectations in that case.
version of ASE are they using, and on which
This matters: for example, if they appear to be
running 11.0.3 on Data General, find out if they
are aware that both this ASE version and this
platform are no longer supported by Sybase. If
they're not planning to upgrade to a supported
version/platform soon, ask yourself if you want
to be working there; you risk being on your own,
without support, and with an out-of-date ASE
version that stops you from keeping your ASE
many servers, database and concurrent users do
they have ? What's the database size like ?
Is there a 24*7 uptime requirement ?
It helps to know which scale you're talking about.
If you're supposed to look after a 500 Gb, never-no-downtime,
3000-user system, check whether the salary you're
being offered is of the same magnitude as the
Sybase Replication Server involved ?
If it is, and if you know RepServer, reconsider
your financial demands -- upwards, that is.
Reason is that RepServer DBAs are hard to find --
much harder than ASE DBAs.
you also supposed to take care of their Oracle,
MS-SQL, etc. servers ? Do you have to manage ASIQ or ASA (SQLAnywhere) as well ?
You may want to know this in advance rather than
find out on your first working day....
you want to get a Sybase certification (or get a
more recent one) will they pay for this ?
It should make 'm happy that you're willing to
get your certification, 'cos it will make you a
better DBA; try to get them to pay for at least
part of it. Tip: if you're talking to a
management person, calling this a "win-win
scenario" might help....