The job of a DBA is special in any organization. Large companies might have anywhere from three to six (or even more) DBAs on staff. But for small to mid-sized organizations, oftentimes there is only a single DBA putting on a one-person show. And they might not even be a DBA by training; there is even a term that describes a developer or system administrator who takes on the role of DBA because nobody else is doing it (SolarWinds’ white paper, “The Accidental DBA”).
But What Does a DBA Do?
The DBA is responsible for managing the security, performance, and integrity of a database system. The DBA should get involved in database management from the planning and development phase going forward. Once the database is set up and in use, the DBA needs to make sure that the data is clearly defined and remains consistent; that data security, recovery, and backup processes are in place; and that users are given support with troubleshooting issues that they come across in their day-to-day work.
Generalists Versus Specialists
Database management involves a lot of different disciplines: logical database design, physical design, performance analysis and tuning, data warehousing, auditing and logging, server configuration, troubleshooting, and monitoring. Some DBAs prefer to get involved in all of these on a general level, doing a little bit of everything. Others specialize in one or two areas, learning and practicing those disciplines in-depth. Frequently, the DBA’s employer dictates whether the DBA is a generalist or a specialist, as well as what specialty to focus on.
When an organization is small and cannot afford to have multiple DBAs, or the database accounts for only the supportive functions of the core business, it is more likely to hire a DBA with a generalized skill set. Since the capacity in each discipline will be relatively lower, a DBA with a good skill set and expertise should be able to handle it well.
On the other hand, in larger organizations, where there can be many database systems and related tasks, it would be difficult for one or two DBAs to handle everything. This could also be the case when the database system is the core business of the organization, such as in organizations that sell data or provide analytics solutions. In such cases, the organization may hire several DBAs who are specialized in the most critical database disciplines used by the organization. There are several accepted database disciplines in which a DBA can specialize, as outlined below.
A Database Architect is involved in the overall design and implementation of database systems. A database architect needs to gauge the business requirements and decide how best to design the database to cater to the business needs. They are only involved in the design and implementation of the database.
A System DBA focuses on the administration-related activities of the database system. This includes server configuration, installations and upgrades, managing of support technologies, etc.
An Application DBA focuses on database design, development, and writing SQL functions to perform CRUD operations for database applications. They are responsible for change management and performance tuning of the database for the particular applications they’re working on.
A Performance Analyst focuses on database performance. Performance analysts constantly monitor the database for performance bottlenecks, including the SQL coding that results in performance issues, and handle performance-tuning tasks. They must have a good understanding and technical knowledge of advanced database concepts.
Which types of DBA skills are needed for your organization? It is important to assess this, especially if you are hiring multiple specialized DBAs. To learn in detail about the different types of DBAs and their responsibilities, download “The Many Different Types of DBAs,” a white paper I wrote for Datavail (www.dbta.com/DBTA-Downloads/WhitePapers/The-Many-Different-Types-of-DBAs-6987.aspx). This will help you make sure that you are investing in the right set of people to take your organization to the next level. You can also find an in-depth discussion of DBA responsibilities, in my book Database Administration: The Complete Guide to DBA Practices and Procedures.