New Trends in Database Administration

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Database administration is undergoing some significant changes these days. The DBA, traditionally, is the technician responsible for ensuring the ongoing operational functionality and efficiency of an organization’s databases and the applications that access that data. But modern DBAs are relied upon to do far more than just stoke the fires to keep database systems performing.

Most DBAs have many years of IT experience. As such, they have worked on many different technologies, not just database systems. So DBAs are frequently called on to support diverse IT areas including application development, middleware implementation, transaction processing, business intelligence, and networking. So today’s DBA is not always just a DBA, and that means that the DBA is not always 100% devoted to the care and feeding of the database.

An additional trend is that there are far fewer single-DBMS DBAs than there used to be. Twenty (or even ten) years ago, it was common for an Oracle DBA (say) to work on only Oracle databases. But increasingly in this day and age of heterogeneity many DBAs are tasked with managing multiple DBMSs (DB2 and Oracle; or DB2 z/OS, DB2 for LUW and IMS; or even DB2 and a NoSQL database). When focus is diluted in this manner it becomes difficult for DBAs to be the DBMS-specific experts that developers and management expect them to be.

On top of that, fewer DBAs are being asked to manage more data. More and more data is being stored and accessed, due to the success of big data and analytics projects. But more data is not translating into more DBAs being hired. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the growth rate for DBAs as “faster than average” at 11% between the years of 2014 and 2024, that is still less than 2% per year.  And when we match that up against the rapid growth rate for data into the next decade, it is easy to see that organizations are not planning well if they hope to keep a handle on their burgeoning data stores.

And while we’re at it, let’s discuss data growth. According to a recent study by IDC the digital universe will continue growing at 40% a year into the next decade. By 2020, IDC estimates that the digital universe will grow to 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes. For the zetta-challenged, a zettabyte is 1024 exabytes (which is 1024 petabytes). That’s a lot of data.

This data growth is occurring for a variety of reasons. Organizations are rapidly moving more of their business online to take advantage of the immense popularity of smart devices (phones, tablets, etc.) And more “things” are being connected to the Internet (Internet of Things, or IoT), which can produce data streams that are collected and tracked. The explosion of data on social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that is being tracked for marketing and other purposes is also contributing to this vast uptick in the amount of data being created and stored. And we must add all of these factors to the increase of data required due to business growth and expansion. We are truly living in the big data era.

The ability to collect such large amounts of data has given rise to the big data industry trend, which is in itself a collection of trends. The essence of the big data movement is being able to derive meaning quickly from vast quantities of data – both structured and unstructured – in order to improve business decision making. So big data encompasses, embraces and relies upon multiple other trends and capabilities including Business Intelligence, cloud computing, distributed data, NoSQL and Hadoop, analytical tools, networked devices, sensors, and the IoT.

Big data represents a major shift in IT requirements and technology.  The phenomenal growth of data and the speed at which it is being generated offers an opportunity for uncovering information and trends that were heretofore unknown.

And the type of data that is being collected by organizations and relied upon to drive business is changing. Production databases used to store only structured data (number, characters, and date/time data), but more and varied types of data collectively referred to as unstructured data is being stored in modern database systems. IDC estimates that the amount of unstructured data accounts for 90% of all digital information. Of course, not all of that data is finding its way into our database systems, but more of it is.

All of these trends make database administration more challenging, but ultimately a rewarding and intellectually stimulating career choice. But if you think that DBAs are still only doing what they used to do in the 1990s, that is a mistaken notion!