The changing role of the DBA

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

As the database environment changes, so too does the role of the database administrator (DBA). In organisations large and small, DBAs are under immense pressure to adjust to changes in database technology, to adopt new database flavours like open source and NoSQL, and to ensure the best performance and stability for their entire environment. This, at the same time as proving to organisations that DBAs are still extremely useful with the advent to the database as a service (DBaaS), means that DBAs are up against it more than ever. 

In addition to these pressures, DBAs find themselves taking on more responsibility, and an increased number of databases, which inevitably takes valuable time away from what really delivers better performance results. In fact, according to a survey carried out by Unisphere Research, more than two thirds (70 per cent) of DBAs are now managing more than 11 or more databases, and incredibly, 10 per cent were found to actually be managing more than 100! With a more demanding workload and complex database environment, modern DBAs no longer have the time to focus on the tasks that bring real value to the business.

Gone are the days when all databases resided on disks spinning in racks on the company’s premises. Variety in the location and type of servers has become a fact of life for DBAs charged with monitoring databases. Besides being located on premises and in the cloud, databases can reside on physical or virtual servers. In global organisations they can be anywhere on the planet, and DBAs must manage them remotely.

It’s no surprise that most DBAs consider themselves experts on one primary platform. However, each platform has its own methods, tools, and APIs for database monitoring. Therefore, when cutting their teeth on a new secondary platform, the learning curve for DBAs can be steep and time consuming.

The lay of the land

While the data growth rate, number of database instances, and number of platforms that each DBA must support has not dramatically changed over the last three years, the database infrastructure

has become far more complex. Two factors in particular have driven this increased complexity. Firstly, non-relational databases have gained a notable foothold in the corporate environment. Add this to the consumerisation of open source database management systems (OSDBMS) such as MySQL and PostgreSQL and you quickly see how much of an increasingly fragmented and heterogeneous landscape DBAs have to control.

Of course, the other major contributor to this complex environment is the cloud. According to Unisphere, in terms of overall data management, the move to the cloud is the top challenge for DBAs in the near future, followed by increased automation. While there are many exciting new technologies in data management, it is the ongoing transition and cannibalisation of cloud platforms that is poised to command the most attention over the next few years.

It’s a no-brainer that organisations need to be investing in cloud platforms and automation, and these two technologies are good news for DBAs. They will enable routine and mundane tasks associated with database management to be taken care of. Supporting a database in the cloud will also mean a DBA can access the database in real time from any location, freeing up space to address new duties and challenges.

In order to thrive in an increasingly autonomous environment, DBAs must learn to embrace the positive effects of incorporating AI technologies and toolsets into their everyday job functions. Many of the tasks that these new solutions help to automate are those found to be the most monotonous, such as installation, configuration, maintenance and troubleshooting, along with patch management. The adoption of AI and ML technologies frees up time for DBAs to focus their time and effort on strategic tasks that still require a human touch.

Organisations need to invest in the right solutions to help DBAs streamline and automate routine, redundant, and complex database tasks so that they can focus on more meaningful endeavours. Even as the role of the DBA evolves, their primary focus continues to be on database availability, optimisation and tuning. Data volumes continue to soar and users want immediate and reliable access to data in a variety of ways, but these tasks can be made vastly easier through the deployment of performance monitoring tools, allowing DBA’s to spend more time collaborating with other IT stakeholders and preparing for the future. Solutions that save time, are intuitive and simple to use when it comes to running schema comparisons, script execution, report creation and distribution, even application code reviews and batch optimisation of SQL statements for example, are now also mission critical.

The Future of the DBA

Times are changing. The role of the DBA is not dead despite the advent of DBaaS, however the next step in database monitoring – the autonomous database - is now upon us. Take Oracle’s latest achievements in the realm of autonomous database. Their robust monitoring tool allows DBAs to see the health of a database through a single pane of glass as well as automate performance analysis to identify and fix problem servers. Full automaton is therefore on the horizon.

DBAs will therefore be under increased pressure to prove their value to the organisation. Whether that be mastering open source tools, data modelling, hyperconvergence, or performance monitoring processes; obtaining a broader knowledge of other technologies, or developing a better understanding of business principles like indexing strategy, cost focus, or data governance and wastage, that is up to the DBA.

DBAs themselves should also seize the opportunity - consider strategic IT and business initiatives underway across their organisations, and evaluate how their broad skill-set could benefit those initiatives. Available online resources and courses can help DBAs sharpen their understanding and learn new concepts, whether they are related to data science or DevOps.

The DBA will evolve, like all occupations will with the introduction of automation, but it is unlikely to ever disappear. Data has never been more important to organisations, and no individual has a better understanding of how to manage and ultimately harvest that data than the DBA.

From physical storage engine experts to performance gurus, DBAs now have the important task to convince management to be included from the conceptualisation stages of a project rather than at the production deployment stage. Yes, I’m talking about DevOps, and DevOps coupled with the investment in cloud and automation technology is the catapult that can take DBAs to the next level, and enable them to provide higher value services to their organisations.

Pini Dibask, Product Manager and Database Expert, Quest Software
Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software