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The Top 5 Challenges Facing DBAs in 2020

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As data and databases become more central to business success, the job of the database administrator (DBA) is growing in importance. At the same time, however, the role is getting much harder. Research shows that SQL Server DBAs globally are facing a perfect storm of growing workloads, the need to embrace the cloud, migrating from legacy technology and managing larger database estates, all while improving performance in a data-first world.

These are the headline findings of Redgate Software’s latest State of SQL Server Monitoring report, which was conducted worldwide with over 800 database professionals. Looking at the data in detail highlights five key challenges facing DBAs as they prepare themselves for 2020.

1-The need to migrate to the cloud

In today’s cloud-first world, it probably isn’t a surprise to see growing cloud usage when it comes to databases: 44% of organizations now use SQL Server on virtual machines in Azure, Amazon and the Google Cloud at least some of the time—a 15% increase since last year. And 38% use Azure SQL Database and 23% use Azure Managed Instances.

The key point here is that while organizations are adopting cloud for some areas of their database estate, very few are migrating totally. DBAs now need to manage hybrid estates that combine on-premises and cloud deployments. No wonder that 23% of respondents see migrating to the cloud and integrating with the cloud as their biggest challenge over the next 12 months. Ensuring they have the ability to monitor their entire estate from a single tool is therefore vital if DBAs are to remain on top of their workloads.

2-The need to migrate to newer technology

SQL Server 2008 has now come to the end of its life with its extended support phase having finished in July, 2019. Microsoft will no longer be supplying bug fixes, security updates and mainstream support for the database, which poses problems. While organizations can continue to rely on the database, the lack of security updates mean they run them at their own risk—hardly ideal when they contain vital data that needs to be protected. There is also the compliance angle, with industry regulations and standards like the GDPR and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) requiring organizations to use supported platforms

These changes around SQL Server 2008 are driving a need to migrate to the latest versions of the database, both on-premises as well as in the cloud. Nearly a quarter (22%) said that moving to a new version of SQL Server would be their biggest challenge over the next 12 months, demonstrating the scale of the issue. Again, deploying monitoring tools can assist with upgrades and ongoing patching,  both for on-premises and cloud-based deployments.

3-A need to improve performance

Data is the lifeblood of organizations today, and maintaining and improving database performance is often vital to business success. It’s no surprise that 25% of DBAs saw performance issues as the biggest issue currently affecting their SQL Server estate, ahead of the ability to scale (13%) and security (11%).

Performance optimization was the most common task carried out by DBAs, with 70% listing it as part of their role, ahead of backups, deployments, and data transformations. When responses are filtered to just those using a paid-for monitoring tool, performance optimization increases to 80%, indicating that the additional information available helps users find ways to improve the servers and databases they’re responsible for, as well as freeing up time to focus on this vital area.

4-A need to manage larger estates

DBAs are now managing more complex, hybrid estates made up of both cloud and on-premises databases, but these estates are also growing. According to 39% of organizations, they expect to be increasing their usage of SQL Server over the next year, resulting in 45% of estates expanding. Very few (just 11%) see their use of SQL Server dropping, while 43% expect estates to remain the same.

The number of organizations with between 50-1,000 databases has also grown, while those with smaller estates has dropped between 3-4%. Clearly, the shift is to running more databases across organizations, with the greater workloads that this brings.

The growth in numbers has a direct impact on individual DBAs. When asked how many databases they personally manage, the number managing between one and nine SQL Server databases has dropped by 4%, while those that look after 10 to 49 has increased. DBAs now spend a median average of 4 hours a day both looking after the health of their estates and resolving issues that arise.

Essentially, DBAs need to be able to do more with the same resources and time. Given this, it’s unsurprising that 43% of organizations now rely on a third-party monitoring tool to assist with management. And the larger the estate, the more likely this is—60% of organizations with 50 or more SQL Servers use such a tool. However, 27% of respondents still said they monitored manually, highlighting where technology could help improve performance.

5-A need to manage more frequent deployments

For DevOps to work effectively, it’s imperative that the database is included seamlessly in the software development lifecycle. This means that DBAs need to work more closely with their developer colleagues and effectively change their mindset to follow DevOps processes when it comes to the database.

Previous Redgate research, The State of Database DevOps 2019, highlights the need for this collaboration—77% of organizations now have developers responsible for both database and application development.

One key indicator of the rise of database DevOps is the growing frequency of database changes. Nearly three-quarters (73%) now deploy changes multiple times per month, with 47% doing this more than once a week. And 15% say they deploy changes multiple times per day. This increase in deployments is also accelerating—41% expect the rate to increase over the next 12 months (up from 38% last year). In fact, 44% foresaw the number of deployments remaining the same.

Perhaps linked to this rise in deployments is another surprising highlight from the report: the number one cause of database issues (cited by 22% of respondents) was human error. As the pace of database development and the frequency of deployments increase, so faults can creep in—particularly if changes are being made by both DBAs and developers with different backgrounds and levels of experience. Third-party tools can integrate these processes into DevOps and provide the monitoring and alerts to prevent issues escalating and causing business damage.

Ensuring Data Flows Quickly and Safely

As they look forward into the New Year, DBA to-do lists are growing longer and more complex. Successfully managing their growing hybrid estates will therefore rely on greater use of monitoring tools if they are to meet their objectives of optimizing performance while ensuring that data flows safely and securely to the right parts of the organization and supports faster, more agile DevOps flows.

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