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The Changing Role of the Modern DBA in the New Cloud Era

As DBAs increasingly take on responsibilities once reserved for developers and find themselves working closely with DevOps teams, more of them will move out of central IT support functions  and into the line-of-business and applications teams, said Anderson. “Those DBAs that do not make this transition will find their responsibilities shrinking and risk outright replacement by outsourcer teams.”

The Modern Data Professional

How long do DBAs have to make a transition to more modern role in the new cloud era? It depends on the individual company and industry, said Zaitsev. “I would argue that some of the DBAs have already transitioned, and some never need to." In spite of the industry focus on cloud and containers, it is important to understand that legacy technologies take a very long time to completely die off, he noted. "For example, a lot of applications still run on mainframes and are written in COBOL. I believe at this point a minority of DBAs have transitioned to the new way of thinking. I expect, however, that in the next 3-5 years the ‘old’ way of doing things will become the exception.”

Data professionals at fast-moving startups might think it inconceivable that a minority of DBAs are adopting the new way of thinking—because they transitioned long ago, said Zaitsev. “But fast-moving startups are not the majority of businesses.”

Transitions imply moving from one thing to another but DBAs and the organizations they serve will need to deal with the complexity of maintaining today’s world of on-premises databases while they adopt new technology in the cloud, agreed O’Keeffe. “For them, the world will continue to be hybrid. The adoption of cloud technology alongside existing on-prem technology is already happening now.”

Digital transformation at its core is a story of putting data at the center of business and allowing competitive differentiation, O’Keeffe said. “Putting data and technology at the core of business is a catalyst for rapid adoption by consumers and an enabler of rapid transformation for businesses. It also means that as a data steward, the job of a DBA is becoming ever more critical and certainly more complicated. The cloud allows businesses to iterate at low cost, so it’s not a question of if, but when DBAs will face challenges related to the cloud.”  The result, O’Keeffe noted, is that in their roles as data stewards and trusted advisers DBAs are well-positioned to contribute to their organization’s success by playing an active role.

Now is the Time

DBAs must take a proactive stance when it comes to obtaining  new skills, said Anderson. It behooves them to have a personal career objective and plan to develop cloud database skills, he said. “If you are not working on cloud databases today, seek those opportunities inside your company,” he suggested.  “And, if your company has no plans for cloud databases, consider leaving for another company that is embracing the power of the cloud. At a minimum, develop cloud database skills in your personal time leveraging some of the many great resources that exist in the DBA community today.”

DBAs should embrace the change, agreed Zaitsev. “Learn to code to the extent it is needed to work with cloud infrastructure. This coding is not the same as writing large-scale applications: Infrastructure-related development is designed to be easy. Even if your organization has not yet adopted the cloud completely, invest the time to learn it on your own. You can spin up a Linux VM and learn containers and Kubernetes on your laptop. You can learn a lot about AWS using small-scale instances available in the Free Tier, with similar offerings available from other cloud companies. This knowledge will be invaluable as we move forward.”

Since the cloud exists, so does the idea of autonomous databases, LaRock noted. And this means that DBAs will need to shift their focus away from operational tasks.

There are now computers learning chess in 4 hours, said LaRock.  “I'm certain that we can teach computers how to tune an index, too. In fact, I know we can, because Microsoft is already doing that for SQL Server. We've been hearing about self-tuning autonomous databases for 20 years now. But this time, it's different. The machines are good enough now to do the operational tasks. If that weren't the case, then the cloud wouldn't exist. The cloud depends upon two things: commodity hardware and automation.” The mandate for all DBAs, he noted, is to take steps now to prepare for the future by adding new competency rather than waiting to get started on the next phase of their career.

This article is part one of a six-part series by editors of IOUG SELECT and Big Data Quarterly on "The Changing Role of the Modern DBA." This series will be running over the course of the next three months, with three articles appearing on SELECT and three articles appearing on Big Data Quarterly. 

The second article on on the DBA's role in data security by Michelle Malcher is available at select.ioug.org

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