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

The days of tuning queries and rebuilding indexes manually are coming to an end, and the trend is toward operational automation, industry experts agree.  This will result in fewer individuals with the job title of “DBA,” said LaRock. There will always be a need for data professionals but these individuals may be called developer, architect, data analyst, or have some other title instead of DBA, he said.

As the role of the DBA moves away from operations, these data professionals must focus less on the infrastructure that supports their database and be more aware of the application and its needs, added Anderson. “They must also manage costs that can swing wildly based on a seemingly harmless performance setting. They must consider automation for tasks including database deployment and retirement as application demand varies with new databases coming online on a daily basis. DBAs must learn new tooling specific to the various cloud providers as there is no single, consistent interface to manage databases across different clouds.”

The DBA needs to understand how the cloud services are billed, and when the organization’s usage changes, understand the budget impact of the additional data and/or workload, agreed Mullins.  “If this additional duty is not taken on by the DBA, changing workload and data patterns can incur additional cost that is not within budget. The DBA must also monitor and understand any new and changing capabilities of cloud services being used. Failure to adopt new offerings or changes to existing capabilities usually will have an impact on your enterprise.”

The database landscape will continue to change, observed Patrick O'Keeffe, executive director, Software Engineering at Quest Software.  “With the recent launch of Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, we are starting to see growth in the use of globally distributed, multi-model and multi-API database platforms.  We are also seeing growth in the use of more traditional relational databases offered as a service in both the AWS and Azure clouds. As a result, organizations migrating data from on-premises to the cloud will become more mainstream. DBAs will now be responsible for data security, and data monitoring in a more complex hybrid world.”

Security becomes especially critical when the data is not stored on premises but somewhere in the cloud, Mullins acknowledged. “Most public cloud vendors provide security mechanisms and services that the DBA can work with to assure that their sensitive information is protected, but it is not completely automatic and requires vigilance to track and protect from internal and external threat sources.” Compliance with corporate, industry, and governmental regulations also imposes new responsibilities on the DBA in terms of database auditing and data masking, Mullins said.

New Skills 

The DBA role is rapidly evolving to focus more on development skills, automation, and other “higher value” and “higher leverage” activities, noted Peter Zaitsev, co-founder and CEO, Percona. “For example, a big focus now is working with developers to design database schema and queries that ensure application performance and scalability.”

In 2018, DBAs will have the opportunity to play a critical role in DevOps, said O'Keeffe. “Due to their complex nature and common data movement challenges, databases tend to pose major bottlenecks to DevOps teams and processes.

We'll start to see more of a focus on including databases in continuous deployment and delivery processes. The DBA will play an integral role in driving digital transformation forward whilst continuing in the role of a data steward and trusted adviser.

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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