Comparing and contrasting Oracle tuning certifications
I have known people to say that with enterprise databases, speed is everything. These people are dead wrong. With enterprise databases, data availability is everything. Committed transactions should never be lost, and a properly administered database should be able to recover rapidly from all manner of failures that damage the database. Oracle’s data integrity controls and its backup and recovery mechanisms are so incredibly robust that people who make such statements presumably take data availability as a given for an Oracle database. Spotting a database administrator who takes data recovery for granted is easy. He will be the one with the incredibly hang-dog expression in the status meeting after a major hardware failure on the database server.
I believe that many Oracle professionals would put database performance as the second-most important aspect of an enterprise database, after data availability. Certainly everywhere I have worked to date, if a query takes more than a few seconds to complete, then someone is sure to ask if it can be made faster. Organizations that use Oracle do so because they need reliable and rapid access to their data. An Oracle database that has been tuned for maximum performance provides the greatest return on the investment made in it.
In a nod to the importance that tuning has for the database, there are currently three Oracle certifications dedicated to tuning. A recent post in the Oracle Certification blog indicated that a fourth certification will be coming in the near future. The purpose of this article is to compare the three existing certifications, and to speculate briefly on the fourth.
The three certifications currently available are:
- 1Z0-054 — Oracle Database 11g: Performance Tuning
- 1Z0-117 — Oracle Database 11g Release 2: SQL Tuning
- 1Z0-417 — Oracle Database Performance and Tuning Essentials 2015
Oracle Database 11g: Performance Tuning is one of Oracle’s Expert series of certifications. Exam candidates who pass this exam will earn the Oracle Database 11g Performance Tuning Certified Expert credential. When tuning an Oracle server, the three primary areas of interest are to make the best use of available server memory, ensure that disk input/output operations are optimized, and to locate and resolve issues with poorly-performing SQL statements. The majority of topics on this exam revolve around those key areas. It is targeted at Oracle database administrators, as it covers primarily information required to assist individuals in tuning the database server itself. An application developer with no DBA access would find little use for 1Z0-054. Unless the privileges in the database were dangerously loose, application developers would not have the required rights to use most of the information covered.
Oracle Database 11g Release 2: SQL Tuning is an expert certification as well. Exam takers who pass this will become an Oracle Certified Expert, Oracle Database 11g Release 2 SQL Tuning. The exam focuses only on improving the performance of SQL queries. 1Z0-054 has topics covering SQL tuning as well, but they represent only twenty percent of the exam. 1Z0-117 performs a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of SQL Explain plans, the Optimizer, and the built-in tools for tuning SQL queries. The exam also has topics covering the benefits of using parallel execution and table partitioning. The target audience is not as cut and dried as the 1Z0-054 exam. 1Z0-117 contains topics that can be of use to both database administrators and for developers. I would have to say that the exam leans more towards Oracle developers. That said, some of the topics in the exam feature tools that generally require access generally restricted to DBAs. I do not believe that developers on most systems would have the privileges to create SQL Profiles or SQL Baselines, for example. They might not even have the privileges required to run the SQL Tuning or SQL Access Advisors. The majority of the exam, however, is on information that SQL developers can make use of.
Oracle Database Performance and Tuning Essentials 2015 is the odd man out. Unlike the first two, this exam is not part of the expert series. The credential earned for passing this exam is: Oracle Database Performance and Tuning 2015 Certified Implementation Specialist. It is part of the suite of exams created for members of the Oracle Partner Network. The exam is not restricted to employees of OPN companies, but that is the primary audience. 1Z0-417 contains a very mixed bag of topics. A significant number are straight marketing topics with no technical aspect to them. One example of this is: “Describe the value proposition for an Oracle Database solution and how the solution benefits and impacts a customer’s financial position (i.e. top-line and bottom-line).”
Most of the subjects on the exam are technical, and several topics reference the same tuning utilities that appear in 1Z0-054 and 1Z0-117. They are obviously covered in a much more cursory fashion, however, in 1Z0-417. One of the most puzzling aspects of this exam to me is the title. Most Oracle certification exams are related to a version of the database, but this one is tied to a year. Is there going to be another tuning exam in 2016? How would tuning change from one year to another without a new release of the database? In terms of the target audience, I do not really see one beyond employees of OPN companies.
The fourth exam that will be available later this year is presumably going to be the 12c version of 1Z0-054. At any rate, the announcement indicated that it will provide an expert certification with a similar name: “Oracle Certified Expert, Oracle Database 12c: Performance Management and Tuning”. The topics have not been announced yet, but will likely be very similar to the 11g exam. I would expect to see updates only to the areas where 12c has added new tuning tools or changed existing ones. Almost assuredly there will also be some topics about tuning in relation to the Multitenant architecture as well.
If you are an Oracle administrator or developer looking to boost your credentials, one of the first two tests may be just what fits the bill. If you learn how to make the database run faster, or make your SQL (or someone else’s SQL) perform better, you have just become that much more valuable to any company using Oracle.