Today we have a guest blog from Jeff Erickson, Director of Content Strategy at Oracle.
It’s no secret that data is the new black gold—a source of wealth creation on par with financial capital, say some. So it’s a little ironic that a group of people who understand better than anyone how to manage data are feeling increasingly left out of the party.
Database Administrators, or DBAs, are the experts responsible for the performance and security of a growing list of database types, from relational to in-memory to NoSQL. These databases provide the cornerstone technology of digital business activities like ecommerce, mobile computing, and social media, and are integral to trends like big data, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things (IoT). But here’s the rub for DBAs: Cloud vendors now offer fully managed database services that take over a lot of the daily tasks of a company’s in-house DBAs. And, due to automation and economies of scale, those service providers can often do it faster and more cheaply.
So where does that leave DBAs?
“In a very good position,” says Penny Avril, vice president of database product management at Oracle. “Data has enormous value and the importance of the DBA isn’t going away. But their role is changing.” A lot of the mundane tasks of a DBA are going away, “including a lot of the tasks where DBAs would be on call 24/7,” Avril says. Such tasks might include applying software updates or backing up data, which are automated with a database cloud service. Meanwhile, the parts of the job that are more interesting and more visible to a line of business leader, such as data modeling and data security, will only grow, she says.
Here, according to Avril and several other experienced DBAs, are three ways to energize a DBA career in the age of the cloud:
1. Deliver the Right Data to Drive a Business Strategy
“There is a whole lot more data coming online from social and data sharing services—and IoT,” says Avril. “So the role of making data available to their business users just radically increases.”
This is a natural fit for the DBA, she says, because they know how data moves. For example, a company might want to analyze data from multiple sources, requiring a DBA who understands the data formats and can bring them together. A DBA can deliver even more value by working to understand the company’s business model and advising on what data is most valuable to the business.
This shift doesn’t require getting a PhD in statistics. “DBAs may not become data scientists,” notes Avril. “But they can make the data scientist role a lot more valuable by getting the data to them quicker and more efficiently and by providing an understanding of different data sources.”
David Start, who heads the Independent Oracle User Group (IOUG), agrees. “There’s a lot more [that] DBAs need to know” besides how to manage a database, he says. “It’s solutions. It’s architectures. It’s critical thinking. It’s communication skills and problem-solving.” His user group members are, he says, determined to help each other meet these challenges. “You can’t just be the Oracle DBA with your hands on the keyboard anymore, you have to look up and understand how business leaders want to use the data.”
A good way to start, says Oracle’s Avril, is for DBAs to speak to business analysts from the various lines of business to understand what they hope to gain from new data sources and from the agility that the cloud provides.
The other challenge that doesn’t go away, says Avril, is information security, even though the cloud makes that less of a hands-on task as well. “Someone has to worry about data security as the business expands access into all these forms and sources of data,” she says. The cloud vendor will encrypt it, but doesn’t know what it is or means—nor does it want to. “Someone on the customer side needs to understand and classify the data and understand the privilege model they have for who can access the data.”
2. Master the Tactical Side of Cloud Migration
Organizations will take a long time transitioning from today’s world of on-premises databases to a future of fully managed cloud databases. When the IT team moves an Oracle Database to cloud infrastructures such as Amazon Web Services or Oracle Bare Metal infrastructure, “their databases will still be primarily managed by their own DBAs,” Avril says. “Over time, however, as companies use more cloud-based applications, the database they use will be fully managed by the cloud vendor.”
During this transition, says longtime DBA Robert Dawson of Oracle implementation partner Meta7, there are a lot of tactical needs that DBAs can help meet. “When a company is working with on-premises and cloud technology, someone needs to understand the cloud environment,” he says, “but also things like networking, VPN access, security, basic tenets of infrastructure, and database as well.”
Avril’s advice is to help your company understand which applications should be moved to the cloud immediately and which should wait. “Know the mechanics of how to move applications and data to the cloud and take advantage of free cloud trials to learn how to integrate cloud services with your on-premises data sources.”
3. Grow into New Roles
Change is nothing new to the DBA role. “We’ve seen this before in earlier versions of the database when Oracle introduced automation to a whole bunch of DBA tasks—automated storage management, automatic workload repository, and several others,” says Avril. “DBAs initially thought, ‘What am I supposed to do? Will I lose my job?’”
But over time DBAs learned to rely on the automation and shifted their time to more high-value work.
Not that the transition is always easy, says Dawson. “There’s a level of frustration because DBAs are used to being responsible for the most complex stuff, such as installing Oracle Exadata, installing Oracle RAC, or doing version upgrades,” he says. “Now they need to go back and grow their skills in new ways.”
But as Dawson has seen in his own company, the opportunities are boundless if you’re willing to learn new skills.
“You can explore open source tools like Docker or Ansible, and learn to use REST services,” he says. “Now you’re growing again. You might have been doing the same thing for the last 10 years, and now you’re opening up the O’Reilly book and reading about infrastructure as code and automation in cloud environments. That’s empowering. That’s career growth for DBAs.”
IOUG’s Start agrees that the cloud will be good for DBAs: “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened because it’s shaking up people. It’s a faster pace. It gets people on their toes. It gets the data moving through the business.”
Interested in some hands-on cloud experience? Oracle Code events are one-day, developer-focused events with practical labs and sessions.