The DBA is alive

The DBA is Alive and Well—Here's Why

As a database administrator (DBA), should you be worried about the future of your job? New tools, the cloud, and less need for DBAs only managing backups and security, have created questions about the future role of traditional DBAs.

Microsoft MVP Steve Jones' recent "Voice of the DBA" blog post titled, "The DBA is Dead," and Kenny Gorman's column, "The Database Administrator is Dead," created some great conversations and reactions from SQL Server Pro staff.

Related: How Many DBAs Does It Take to Administer a Database?

I have to agree with Jones' conclusion that the DBA isn't dead—someone needs to keep providing at least some administration and management of databases. However, I have no doubt thatlike with most jobs todaythe role of the DBA is changing and will continue to evolve.

The DBA is Far From Dead

Michael Otey
Michael Otey

, technical director for SQL Server Pro, says he laughs every time he hears statements like, "the DBA is dead" and is in complete agreement with Jones that the DBA is far from dead. Otey explains:

I do believe the role of the DBA has changed and is fact quite often different from company to company. At some organizations, the DBA works with developers on schema design and application tuning. At other companies, the DBA just manages data. Some DBAs I've talked to are all around troubleshooters who mainly put out fires all day. Today's modern databases have a self-tuning component and some smaller companies can get away without a full- time DBA, but if you're an enterprise with hundreds or thousands of users, or your organization requires high application availability like an on-line retailer, then the DBA is a vital role—one that's too important to omit or outsource.

I think it's highly unlikely that DBAs will become Database-as-a-Service experts. Why? Because there is too much specialized knowledge required to work with each platform. An Oracle DBA can't just jump over and manage SQL Server any more than a SQL Server DBA can just walk over and manage an Oracle system. The products are just too complex and too deep for that. While a DBA can cross over between platforms it takes a considerable amount of time to master each platform—and today there are very, very few people that are actually experts at both. I don't see that changing any time soon.

Expertise & Specialization Still Required

Michael K. Campbell
Michael K. Campbell

, a contributing editor for SQL Server Pro, president of OverAcheiver Productions, and an experienced developer and production DBA for several well-known companies, is sure the DBA isn't going away anytime soon.

Campbell emphasizes that platforms vary so wildly from one product to the next that it's simply wrong to assume that a single 'expert' could ever "stroll from one platform to another." According to Campbell:

Even within NoSQL circles, the number of different products, offerings, and capabilities vary so wildly that it’s ludicrous to assume that if an organization has serious problems with CouchDB, that a MongoDB expert would be able to address their issues, with say reporting, or deployment, and so on. Likewise, in terms of just SQL Server, not only is Azure (the hosted version of SQL Server) so fundamentally different from 'normal' SQL Server in terms of underlying engine, locking, and concurrency, that major problems would need specialization of one sort or another.

The wide variety of different types of deployments among normal' SQL Server installations requires substantial specialization and expertise, as well. Or, in other words, a simple 2 socket server with 64GB of RAM running 3-5 user databases experiencing serious problems due to locking/blocking caused by bad code/architecture by developers, requires an entirely different set of skills to address than a 64-core box running 1TB of RAM with 2,500 databases that occasionally 'hiccups' and falls down.

In short, real businesses depend on real data—and large amounts of it. My expectation is that most of the folks using the MongoDB services referenced in the original article are either supplementing their own, internal, 'real,' data stores with various offshoots or tests of NoSQL implementations for side projects, or they're simply not dealing with enough data to justify true DBAs on staff—and that’s not a crime and it’s not at all uncommon—huge numbers of businesses function without DBAs day-in and day-out. Just like healthy 20 year olds can go for years without seeing a doctor (for regular checkups)—that doesn’t mean there’s no place for doctors or that DBAs are going 'away.'


What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you! You're invited to join the conversation by posting your comments below.

Related: Essential Resources for DBAs

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