Is the DBA career dead?

Posted in: Business Insights

 

With the increased popularity of cloud services, one of the questions that I often receive is: “Is the DBA career dying? What will you do for a living in the future?” In this article I will give my personal opinion about the future of our beloved profession, and try to calm down those that have already started to look for another career.

The first thing that I want to point out is that when we started to work in IT we knew that it was a career that is different than most of the other ones out there. Its nature is  a dynamic and exciting one that reinvents itself all the time, with technological news showing up every single year and changing the entire landscape. We have chosen a field that pushes us to keep studying, learning and evolving, and this is the kind of mindset I want you to have while reading this article.

The Database Administrator role is not going anywhere. We are not an endangered species and won’t become one in the foreseeable future. Cloud is not our enemy. The data market is just evolving, and the cloud is bringing a lot of new things that will give us more power and more options.

In today’s market we have two very common problems:

  1. Companies can’t find enough people to fill in all positions.

We all know this one. I’m sure we all know several companies that have an open position for months, have interviewed dozens of people, and just can’t find anyone that suits the position.

  1. Companies want to keep their costs as low as possible.

Companies want to make money, and we had a big worldwide crisis just a few years ago that we are still recovering from. This means companies are trying to find ways to improve their productivity, while keeping their costs as low as possible.

 

In a scenario like this, the cloud offerings come as an aid to both improve our productivity as a DBA, and to help the company save money. Let’s think for a while about how many tasks we perform daily that don’t bring real value for the business. No doubt that when we’re planning the new high availability solution, or doing performance tuning on that slow query we can see the value that it will bring to the company. In the first case, this will guarantee that all applications are up and running at full speed when the company needs it. The latter will make sure that the server is handling the workload, running more sessions at the same time, and making both internal and external customers happy.

But how about the time you spent trying to find more disk space for all your databases? How about trying to find disk space for all your backups because the database has grown too large and we didn’t plan ahead? Then there’s all the time that you spend installing SQL and Windows patches. I know, in some big companies, we have a dedicated SAN admin and the infrastructure administrators that will worry about those tasks, but that’s not the everyone’s reality. The vast majority of small and medium companies have a small team that is responsible for multiple areas. Why? Scroll up and read problems 1 and 2 om my list above one more time.

I’ll wait for you.

Now, let’s imagine another reality. Let’s imagine a world where I receive a disk space alert for my backups. The company has acquired a new company, the database growth was much bigger than expected, and we ran out of disk space. I go to a web portal and a few mouse clicks later I have 1TB of disk available to me. All I have to do is open SQL Server Management Studio and change my backup jobs to use the new storage area. Problem solved in less than 15 minutes.

Let’s envision a world where I can get all those small databases I have that are not too important for the business (yeah, we all have a lot of those, don’t lie to yourself) and move those databases to the cloud so they don’t use our precious server resources. I don’t need to worry about patching and managing those databases. Wouldn’t that be great? And how about getting rid of the QA and testing servers and replacing them with virtual machines that can just turn off when they are not in use and save money? And those huge tables with hundreds of millions of rows that causes us problems every single day. Wouldn’t it be great if I could replace that complicated sliding window partition solution that we developed to manage historic data, and instead make SQL Server automatically move old and unused data to the cloud, while also keeping the data available for end users in a transparent way?

Cloud is indeed a career shift dynamic, but not one that will kill the database administrator role and destroy families. Instead, it’s one that will make us more efficient, provide us with tools and options to focus ourselves on tasks that bring value to the company. It’s a solution where we can use the existing hardware more efficiently and make our lives easier. Embrace the changes just like we embraced all new technologies that came before it, and use each one as a tool to be successful in your role.

 

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About the Author

A self-proclaimed geek, Felipe admits his curiosity gets him in trouble because he often finds himself “working” on weekends. A lover of data, research, and studying, he has learned a lot of what he knows by teaching himself so he can form a truly unbiased perspective. Felipe’s clients and peers can rely on him for just about any issue related to data warehousing and business intelligence. Addicted to adrenaline, Felipe can be found skydiving and bungee jumping in his spare time.

10 Comments. Leave new

No, I don’t think that in smart companies the DBA career is dead. It may be transformed, but if anything it is being freed from the mundane tasks that consume time and prevent attention to the even more important details, functions, and tasks that usually are neglected unless said DBA is extraordinarily motivated to commit themselves to going far beyond. Of course this is predicated on the assumption that they have the skills and understanding of these most important functions that can make their systems better, safer, and more efficient. Moving to cloud computing is not going to do this automatically.

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Slow poorly designed queries will remain slow poorly designed queries whether they run in the cloud or on the ground. :)

The cloud is a great concept but still not ready for primetime. For most companies it’s still too restrictive and expensive to make the switch. Just look at SQL Azure. It has way too many restrictions to be considered industrial strength yet. So then you try iaas and find you can do things just as fast and cheaper in-house. The cloud needs to evolve more before I would consider it ready for primetime.

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SQL Azure is evolving and restrictions are being lifted as time progresses. The build in the cloud and you maintain the cloud doesn’t have the same restrictions. I am not a fan of the cloud but companies are ramping up and the number of databases is growing by leaps and bounds.

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The more automated things become the less humans are going to be needed. I am seeing software vendors offering Saas now more and more. They will host the app/database for you for a fee and they are either running it in their VM environment or using a cloud service. This gives them control over the app for stability reasons and increases their revenues and taking work away from on prem. server engineers and DBA staff. We have 5 apps heading that way in Q2 of this year. We also just brought up our first app in the Cloud last week. I truly believe as CIOs become more comfortable with the cloud we will see a mass move to it which will cause DBA and server teams to shrink.

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The big problem I see for the cloud is where your data sits. It is not under your control. You also have to consider is a DC any more or less secure than the cloud ? I would say in most cases, yes. In the companies I worked at, the people that had access to the ‘cage’ in the DC are vetted by the company that rents the DC cage space. When using the cloud, you have to trust the cloud provider to vet their people. The cloud can be good for some things but it is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Additionally, your company can be hit by ‘unseen’ costs due to an increase in web traffic.

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Edvaldo Castro
February 1, 2016 1:04 pm

Congrats, very interesting article.
I totally agree with you, when you say that cloud isn’t here to steal our jobs, but to help it to be more efficient.
The main problem of that professional who are against changes, is that they generally can’t see the opportunities that these changes bring together.
I think that cloud unfortunately isn’t fully reliable yet, but It will be sooner than we can imagine.

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Glad this is happening. The DBA activities will more interesting than the usual manual task like installation , upgrade etc. and late night monitoring. Hope the monitoring and maintenance becomes automated including the patching and upgrading specially for the bigger organization which has more databases. The cost of maintaining database is definitely going to go down and in overall the infra as well.

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Hi Larry, how goes it ?

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I’ve been hearing the DBA role is dead for decades now, starting with the introduction of Oracle 10, which was touted as the “DBA-Less” DBMS, I said Poppycock ! The role is definitely changing, to one where a decent level of SQL Development is required, in addition to the normal, mundane “system” level activities for maintenance, fault tolerance, DR and 99.999% uptime. Different classes of the DBA Role is needed, a product based company will need a DBA that is more skilled on the development side, a large institution, such as a Bank, Pharm or retail will need a DBA to manage infrastructure, maybe never to see a line of code. So, in short, it is not a dying profession, but one that is “normalizing” to a more specialized role.

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When I first started in this type of role
Clipper Programmer (89-90) -> LAN Admin (CNE) (91-95) -> DBA (96 – Present), the DBA Role was more “system” centric, as most DB platforms ran on some form of UNIX o/s, with none of these fancy GUI tools, so everything needed to be scripted (No Google for reference), so these functions, which can now be done with 3 or 4 clicks of a mouse, required significant time,knowledge, testing and debugging. My role (as DBA) is more DW/ETL focused these days, working with huge amounts of data, for my clients RMBS and CMBS related portfolios, much of the old “system DBA” tasks are now part of the Infrastructure / Server Support team’s responsibility.

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