If you are a working DBA, eventually you will get drawn into evaluating DBA tools and the vendors who market and sell those tools. Although the most important aspect of DBA tool selection should be the functionality of the tool and the way it satisfies your organization’s needs, the nature and stability of the vendor that provides the product is also important.

The following series of questions can be used to help you evaluate tool vendors as part of your DBA tool evaluation process:

  1. How long has the vendor been in business? How long has the vendor been supplying the type of tools you are evaluating?
  2. Does your company have other tools from this vendor? How satisfied are the users of those tools?
  3. Are other organizations satisfied with the vendor (and tool) you are evaluating? Obtain a list of other organizations that use the same tool and contact several of them.
  4. Does the vendor provide a 24-hour support number? If not, what are its hours of operation? Does the vendor have a toll-free number? If not, how far away is the company from your site? Does the vendor provide Web support? The Web support should be in addition to phone support, not a replacement.
  5. Evaluate the response of the technical support number. Call the number with technical questions at several different times throughout the day: before 8 a.m., around noon, just before 5 p.m., and again after 9 p.m. These are the times when you could find problems with the level of support provided by the vendor. Was the phone busy? Were you put on hold? If so, for how long? Was the phone answered by a service or a technician? When you got a response, was it accurate and friendly?
  6. How knowledgeable are the technical support representatives you have dealt with? Do they know their products inside and out, or do they struggle? Do they know your particular DBMS well (such as a former DBA) or are they unseasoned?
  7. Will the vendor answer DBMS questions (free of charge) in addition to questions about its product? Sometimes vendors will, but they don’t advertise the fact. Try it out by calling the technical support number.
  8. Does the vendor provide a newsletter? How technical is it? Does it provide non-product database information as well as information about the vendor's tools? How is the newsletter distributed (print, web, e-mail)?
  9. Does this vendor supply other tools your organization might need later? If so, are they functionally integrated with this one? Does the vendor supply a full suite of products or just a few?
  10. Does the vendor integrate its tools with other tools? For example, can a product that analyzes databases to determine whether a REORG is required integrate with your shop's job scheduler?
  11. Does the vendor provide training? Is it onsite training? DBMS training and product training?
  12. Are installation, technical, and user manuals provided free of charge? Are the manuals available in both hard and soft copy? Will the vendor deliver additional documentation or error-resolution information by email (soft copy) or overnight mail (hard copy)?
  13. How are software fixes provided? Electronically? By tape? On the Web? Is a complete reinstallation required? How are fixes applied and how frequently are they issued? For mainframe shops, does the vendor support SMP/E?
  14. How many man hours, on a short notice, is the vendor willing to spend to solve problems? Is there a guaranteed time limit?
  15. Is the vendor willing to send a representative to your site to do a tailored product presentation? To assist with product installation? After you have been using the product for a while (post-sales)? How knowledgeable is the rep?
  16. Is the vendor a business partner of your DBMS vendor? How soon will the vendor's tools be modified to support new database releases and versions? Does the vendor participate in your DBMS vendor’s beta or Early Ship Program (ESP) for new versions and releases?
  17. Have the vendor's tools been recently reviewed or highlighted in industry publications or blogs? If so, read the material to gain insight.
  18. Will the vendor assist in developing a cost justification? Does the vendor provide a tool (or spreadsheet) to calculate ROI for its products? Most tool vendors are more-than-willing to provide cost justification to help you sell upper-level management on the need for the tool.
  19. Does the vendor provide sample scripts (or JCL) to run its product? Can any needed scripts (or JCL) be automatically generated by the product? Are templates provided to help you tweak the product to your shop standards?
  20. Does the vendor charge an upgrade fee when the processor is upgraded? When the DBMS is upgraded? How flexible are the contract terms and conditions?
  21. What guarantees are available from the vendor against it being sold or going out of business? Will the vendor supply the source code for the tool (in escrow), or perhaps offer a money-back guarantee?
  22. Is the vendor willing to set a ceiling for increases in annual maintenance charges?
  23. Does the vendor supply DBA tools for multiple DBMSes used at your shop? Can the same tool, using the same interface, be used to manage multiple databases across multiple operating systems?
  24. How does the vendor rank enhancement requests?
  25. What is the status of the vendor? Have recent business down turns resulted in lower market share? If so, what is the company doing to regain its position?
  26. Did the company recently undergo a layoff? What is the retention rate of their development and support staff?
  27. Is the vendor defending any outstanding lawsuits? What impact might the lawsuit(s) have on the ongoing viability of the products you are reviewing?
  28. Has the vender recently downsized its support or development staff? How will the reduced staffing impact delivery of new product features and functionality? Did the staff reduction impact the vendor’s ability to provide appropriate technical product support?

Use these questions to provide a basis for evaluating DBA tool vendors. You can judge for yourself which criteria are most important to your organization and weight the responses appropriately. But be sure to conduct due diligence upon the vendor’s whose DBA tools you will be using. Doing so can help you to avoid surprises at some point down the line.