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

As the use of cloud expands as a database platform and automated capabilities increase, there are new opportunities for DBAs to move beyond operations and emergency fire-fighting and instead get involved in more innovative, high-level tasks that bring additional value to their organizations. But to prepare for the new cloud era, experts contend, DBAs must add new skills.

Changing Roles

Does the cloud make DBAs’ lives easier or more difficult? The answer is complicated. For the most part, it’s the operational tasks that are being automated. However, other responsibilities are emerging that require the experience and expert knowledge of a seasoned DBA.

In many ways, DBAs’ jobs are simpler because certain critical tasks such as backup and disaster recovery are provided automatically with cloud database as a service, said Robert Anderson, VP, product management, IDERA. “As providers build increasingly advanced machine learning into their platforms, modern cloud database engines automatically detect performance and throughput issues, adjusting settings and tuning queries to achieve the desired results.”

However,  Anderson noted, the cloud can also obscure complexities and create havoc for DBAs. For example, application availability may be dependent on cloud regions and other high availability settings that are totally new with the cloud. “As providers make updates to cloud databases much more regularly than with traditional databases, today’s DBAs need to be in ‘constant learner’ mode or they will find themselves treading water to keep up as new projects and initiatives come online.”

Right now, the number-one job for any DBA is recovery, said Thomas LaRock, head geek at SolarWinds. “If you can't recover, you can't keep your job. But the recovery process is an operational task, and operational tasks are being automated away by cloud providers such as AWS and Microsoft—so the operational part is getting easier for traditional, on-premises DBAs.”

This frees up time for a DBA to focus on the non-operational parts of their jobs—the parts of the job that require human thought, such as architecture, security, and data analysis—which is important since these tasks get harder as data becomes more dispersed through the clouds, said LaRock. “Computers are great at providing answers. Humans are great at asking questions. So, let the machines take care of those tasks that they are good at, so that the humans can do the tasks that we are good at, such as architecture, or data analyst.”

But even with the automation of tasks such as backup and recovery in the cloud, the DBA is still the one ultimately responsible, pointed out Craig S. Mullins, president and principal consultant with Mullins Consulting. For example, he noted, a typical DBaaS adoption will have the service provider apply fix packs and migrate to new versions of the DBMS, but the DBA still needs to be aware that they are happening and understand the potential impact of these changes to their systems and applications.

Most DBaaS offerings in the cloud don’t offer an actual DBA as a service, said Mullins. “This means that DBAs still need to be prepared to manage the database implementations that are in the cloud. Performance management now takes on an additional aspect because the latency between the service provider and the application has to be monitored and managed. This requires knowledge of the service provider’s infrastructure, as well as in-depth knowledge of your data and its business importance and relevance.” The result is that most of the DBA roles and responsibilities are still there, just with the additional requirement of performing them with the database being remote instead of onsite—or a combination for hybrid cloud sites, said Mullins.

Fewer DBAs, More “Data Professionals”

Whether it is easier or not, with the rise of cloud, DBaaS, and automation, the DBA role is clearly evolving and the time to add new skills to support a data-driven, cloud-enabled organization is now, experts advise.

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

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