DBA Is Not Dead

My name is David Klee, and I'm the founder of Heraflux Technologies, a consulting firm that specializes in Microsoft SQL Server performance and availability architectures. We are the SQL Server partner for Pavilion Data. I have been a database administrator for over two decades now, as well as an enterprise architect and data platform performance tuner consulting for organizations large and small all over the world. Every few years, I hear of a new report that the Database Administrator role (DBA) is dead, and I must laugh. Automation, intelligence within the database engine, public cloud, and new features have always threatened–or at least been perceived to threaten–the operational staff for these critical systems. I claim that these improvements enable the DBA to further the mission of the business far beyond just working 24x7 to keep the lights on. If the IT organization is even remotely progressive, DBAs are not only far from dead, but are increasingly a vital driver of business growth. 

Remember, data is arguably the most important asset to a business. Databases manage data. DBAs manage databases. The primary role of a DBA is to ensure that the data is available for the business and not lost for any reason. The second role is to make sure that the platform responds fast enough to deliver the data in a reasonable period of time to the requesting application or user. These tenets will never disappear, and skilled specialists are needed in the entire data management lifecycle to ensure that these two requirements are met. DBAs have been managing these systems for decades with these requirements in mind. They understand how the data is being used by the business. 

However, the role of the DBA is quite different than it was just a few years ago. If the DBA role in a given organization exists solely to manage database backups, that role is immediately obsolete when just a basic amount of modern automation is introduced. 

Database management automation has progressed and improved significantly over the last decade, especially with the growth of public cloud offerings. Thankfully, the level automation that exists today helps the DBA get rid of the daily minutia of rote operational tasks such as checking backups, managing index defragmentation levels, performing drive replacements, etc. Spinning up a new database in the cloud today is as easy as a couple of lines of PowerShell, but it takes the DBA to know and select what type and scale to provision, manage and configure the availability architecture of the new database, get a copy of the data onto this new database, and allow application owners access into the new system. The knowledge of why this is being created and how it interoperates with the rest of the data platform is key to the role of the DBA being timeless.

The DBA can start to become more proactive and actually help the organization use the data to drive more business. This expansion of possibilities has led to a number of new fields (or at least titles) within the data space. As new products and features are always being produced, as data platforms become more converged, and as the lines between organizational silos blur, the need to have different operational specialties in the data space grows. Data scientists, development-oriented DBAs, integration specialists, data architects, and “Big Data” engineers are all areas in which DBAs and other IT professionals can specialize. Nevertheless, at the heart of this data maze, the DBA ties it all together.

Change is constant in any IT field. Legacy DBAs that do not embrace the change and adapt with technological advances are going extinct. Organizations that don’t embrace their data are swept behind their competition. I say good riddance to the dinosaurs. For those organizations that embrace the change, the role of the DBA will always be there but will continuously evolve with the times. The titles might change, boundaries could blur, but the DBA will live on– in spirit and in practice.