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How to become an effective database administrator

Big data, machine data, small data, personal data, corporate data; data is everywhere and it's the centerpiece of so many businesses. The question is, who is looking after it? The explosion of data hasn't seen a corresponding growth in the size of IT teams, so it's falling to IT administrators to manage these ever increasing and complex databases.

Read more: Breaking down the five most common big data myths (opens in new tab)

These accidental database administrators (DBAs) have a stressful job – maintaining the integrity of databases isn't easy, especially for those new to the role. But, there are five things that, if DBAs take time to understand and embrace them, can help ease the stress.

Grow "soft skills"

DBAs' responsibilities are often regarded as "hard skills" – teachable abilities. But, as IT continues to evolve, DBAs will have to hone their "soft skills".

With data being such an integral part of corporate life, DBAs have to have a full understanding of their organisation's business objectives and where data management fits within them. Equally, they will have to be a champion of their role, impressing colleagues and managers of the importance of the database. This will become especially important if they need to lobby for extra resources.

So this is going to require significant communication skills. But it needn't be too much of a challenge. IT has had a reputation for having a silo mentality, but that's changing. So learn those skills and how to communicate.

Become a security expert

DBAs' roles revolve around accessing data and keeping track of what happens to it. This is critically important. Organisations can not afford security breaches, and, in today's BYOD working environment, keeping data secure is especially tricky.

But help is here. There is a wealth of intelligence freely available in the trade press and in reports and whitepapers from security experts. Keeping yourself up to date with these will not only give you the tools you need to protect your organisation from a security breach, but will further enhance your reputation as the in-house expert.

Know how to maintain availability and continuity

9-5 is a thing of the past. Business operates for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Employees work remotely and flexibly and need access to data at all times. So DBAs need to know which systems need to be consistently available and which ones can afford to have a little downtime.

To do this, you'll need to know the recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO). RPO is age of the files that must be recovered from backup storage in case of failure, and RTO is how long you have to recover and restore processes after a failure. Quickly getting to grips with these can mean minimal disruption to the database.

Understand the cloud

It's not just enough for the DBA to understand the data. You need to understand how to store it too. You need to understand architecture, virtualisation and, especially, the cloud. Cloud technology is a game changer for databases, so you need to have a sound knowledge of the benefits of IaaS, SaaS, and more.

Read more: Top five latest trends in cloud computing (opens in new tab)

(opens in new tab)DBAs are far more than simply caretakers of the database. You have to know how to get the most out of it and how to plan for future requirements. This means being on the cutting edge and learning and exploring new cloud technologies. The cloud is the future of IT and data management and you need to be the in-house expert. As with security, the information is freely available from the trade press, so make sure you are well read.

Improve response time

Your organisation can't afford a slow response time. It's an old cliché that time is money, but the thing with old clichés is that they are often true. The people who depend on your database won't care how something is done. All they care about is that it's done on time and done properly.

One of the ways to enable a swift response time is to look at proactive management of the database. Technology is available that can automatically analyse database performance and identify problems in real time. The ultimate goal of IT management is identifying and solving problems before your end users notice them. So if you have the ability to spot problems as, or even before, they develop, you will be one step closer to having a smooth running database.

Read more: Improving business collaboration with your data (opens in new tab)

The role of the DBA isn't going to shrink. Quite the opposite, in fact. As organisations become ever more data dependent, it's only going to expand. Yet, with a little knowledge and the commitment to be a true champion for the power and potential of your organisation's database, you can truly excel in the role.

Thomas LaRock is senior database administrator and technical evangelist at SolarWinds (opens in new tab)