The inaugural Microsoft Ignite conference kicked off this week in Chicago, Illinois and for the first time I recall at event of such magnitude the data platform had a large presence in the keynote address. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft spoke to the advancements, enhancements and criticality in the next release of Microsoft SQL Server in his early remarks. Building upon his assertion that "bringing end users, developers and IT professionals together is what Microsoft has always stood for", Nadella went on to voice the mantra many of us close to Microsoft have been hearing for quite some time: mobile-first, cloud-first.
To quote Mr. Nadella:
"It's not the mobility of a single device that matters - it's actually the least important and most irrelevant thing. What matters is the mobility of the experience across all computing devices in our life. And that will only happen because the cloud enables it. Every layer of our IT stack is going to be profoundly impacted."
Simply put, Microsoft is pushing all their chips into the cloud and the expected demand for a consistent experience with all computing across any device or platform. We've seen this already with the "Microsoft Everywhere" push that now has Office on iOS and with opening the door to the Windows Mobile platform to iOS and Android applications. We've seen this with the enhancements to Office 365 and the suite of "Power Tools" for data such as Power BI and Power Query.
Mobile-First due to the demand for a consistent experience. Cloud-First because without the cloud that consistency is not possible.
The Role of SQL Server 2016
The data layer is finally stepping out from the shadows and is realized as (arguably) the most-vital component of the computing stack. We've seen this since cloud computing came to be - regardless of the vendor - two core components were released initially: operating system and data. We are now two releases into the era of Earthed+Cloud data provisioning and are about to engage with a third in what is SQL Server 2016. What we are seeing from Microsoft over these last five years of SQL Server releases is also a softening of their pitch to the IT professionals about the role of cloud computing as it relates to data. In the build-up to releases of SQL 2012 and 2014 we were told to expect a large shift to Azure and the push was stong enough by the product team that many close to those messages were concerned that the roadmap for SQL Server would eventually go down a path to not just "cloud-first", but rather "only-cloud". I was pleased to see a softening of that message in the early days of the SQL Server 2016 release cadence; a move toward a hybrid cloud rather than having to choose between earthed or cloud-based architectures. That message was made much more public in the Ignite keynote by Mr. Nadella.
SQL Server 2016 was given it's big turn at the dance in the words from Nadella at the Ignite keynote:
"SQL 2016 is perhaps the biggest breakthrough in database technology that you have ever seen. It is some fantastic technology."
After likely exceeding the number of times the previous CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer mentioned "SQL" in public Nadella went on to highlight one of the new key features that up until now only we under non-disclosure agreements have been privy to, the Stretch:
"...creating an infinite database where you can take even a single table in SQL 2016 in your data center and stretch it to Azure without any of your applications having to change; without any of your queries you run against SQL 2016 having to change."
That single sentence highlights the future of the (SQL Server) Database Administrator. Is the DBA role going away? We've been hearing that since the release of SQL Server 2000; that SQL Server was "self-tuning" now. As an aside, I was recently going through old copies of Wired magazine that I had in my office. It was interesting seeing the same (or similar) articles show up on the cover of these magazines over sampling of issues from the last 5 years I was hoarding and have since recycled: "Is (insert-company-here) a Monopoly?", "Top (small random number) Tech Gadgets Reviewed". The "the DBA role is going away in the next version of SQL Server" fear mongering has been a recurring discussion point for the last 15 years.
We know that to not be the case. Certainly, smaller shops with smaller and less critical implementations of Microsoft SQL Server can get by without a full-time DBA. They can probably also get by with the Express Edition of SQL Server. When the topic is the role of the Enterprise DBA I think we can all agree that while the role is not going away but the role is definitely going to be stretching to the cloud.
I know many of you working in certain industries will argue this. I have been in the healthcare sector for over 15 years now and I would have argued the point just a year ago particularly with the institutional lag in adoption of technologies for medical devices' data platforms. In 2015 it's still an exception and not the rule when we're able to deploy new systems on anything more recent than SQL Server 2008R2 as it relates to databases integrating with medical equipment. We are seeing much better adoption for newer versions of SQL Server on other line of business applications. When we talk about healthcare those applications add up. Along with the uptick in SQL 2012 / 2014 adoption we're experiencing the drive to the cloud for our data requirements - particularly those systems that need to be consistent and available across different devices as stated in Mr. Nadella's remarks. The time will come where you will see implementation across all sectors of business from commercial sales to hospitals and financial institutions and DBAs are going to need to be engaged to support those environments. Certainly the details regarding the tasks associated with database administration will change but there will still be a need for development, deployment, maintenance and performance tuning in the Microsoft cloud (and all other viable competing cloud offerings.)
Just as we'll be able to stretch database components to the Microsoft cloud so shall we as Database Administrators, Developers and Engineers.
The DBA role is dead. Long live the DBA role.