The Cloud and Database Administration

Database administration includes responsibility for ensuring the ongoing operational functionality and efficiency of an organization’s databases and the applications that access those databases. Traditionally, for the DBA, this has meant becoming an expert about “all things” related to a particular database management system (DBMS), such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, IBM Db2, and others, and that the DBMS was installed on-premise on physical servers. However, cloud computing is changing the traditional role of the DBA as cloud providers deliver some of the management services heretofore delivered by DBAs.

The general idea behind cloud computing is that IT resources such as computing power, database services, applications, and storage are delivered by a service provider over the internet with pay-as-you-use pricing. Organizations are shifting to the cloud for many reasons, but the most prominent are the promise of cost reduction and improved scalability.

What Will Change

With database-as-a-service (DBaaS), some traditional DBA tasks will be managed by the cloud provider. DBaaS is a cloud computing managed-service offering that provides access to a database without requiring the set-up of physical hardware, the installation of software, or the configuration of the database. With DBaaS, many maintenance and administrative tasks are overseen by the service provider, freeing up users to quickly benefit from using the database.

For example, most DBaaS providers deliver backup services for cloud databases. This means that some of the manual backup procedures heretofore handled by DBAs are controlled by the cloud service provider. Of course, DBAs are still required to know their business recovery time objectives, understand where failures can occur (both on-premise and in the cloud), and ensure that the backup plans are adequate to meet their company’s requirements.

With cloud databases, availability also can become less of a DBA concern because the cloud can replicate databases across multiple geographical locations. Keep in mind, too, that cloud DBaaS providers manage the maintenance, the upgrading, and the application of fix packs to the DBMS, a particularly time-consuming process most DBAs dislike. Nevertheless, DBAs still need to communicate with the DBaaS provider to know when maintenance is being applied and if there could be any impact that would need to be addressed.

Furthermore, the DBA team must comprehend the exact cloud services being provided and verify that they conform to its usage needs. For example, DBAs need to understand issues such as latency problems, size limitations, and any other considerations that change the way that an organization works with the database.

With these differences, the role of the DBA will likely shift from being more implementation-focused to being more strategic when DBaaS is deployed because many of the routine, day-to-day management tasks can be handled by the cloud provider.

New Skills Required

That said, implementing cloud databases will require that new skills be mastered by the DBA team. For example, loading a cloud database can be a challenge because of latency issues. But it is not just in the initial loading that latency can be problematic; any data access over the cloud can be delayed due to latency issues. DBAs need to build such expectations into their service-level agreements—both with the service provider and end users.

And let’s not imagine that moving databases to the cloud will change the DBA’s responsibility for performance management, security, database change management, and many other typical DBA duties.

There are also many new DBA duties that will arise as organizations embrace cloud computing. One such responsibility is acquiring and maintaining deep knowledge of the cloud architecture. This includes knowing what is in the cloud and what is on-premise—not just for data, but for the entire compute stack— as well as how to utilize the components that are in the cloud from an administrative and development perspective.

Working in the New Hybrid Environment

The DBA must also become a vital cog in the budget management process for the cloud database. Just because it is easy to scale up using cloud database services does not mean there is no cost. As a result, the organization needs an expert who understands the impact of additional workloads on the DBaaS contract. Moreover, the DBA must have knowledge of the impact of database and application design and architecture decisions and how they affect costs.

Finally, it is improbable that all of an organization’s databases will move to the cloud. That means DBAs must be able to work in a hybrid environment, maintaining their traditional skill set for on-premise data, while embracing and extending their capabilities to manage the cloud data.