The Three Key Challenges Facing the DBA of the Future

There are three big challenges facing today’s DBAs—a shift to an application-centric focus, the need to support multiple database platforms, and expanding responsibilities for managing database performance in the cloud as well as on premises.

To stay relevant today and into the future, there are tools and technologies—and I might add skills—that DBAs need to understand.

Three Key Challenges DBAs are Facing

IT is Shifting to an Application-Centric Approach—IT departments are becoming more application-focused. This is good for DBAs because, at the core of nearly every application is a database. We know when an application performance problem arises, there’s a good chance it’s associated with the underlying database. In fact, recent research by Gleanster found that 88% of IT professionals surveyed reported the database as the most common challenge or issue with application performance.

The Growing Need to Support Multiple Database

Platforms—According to a 2015 report produced by Unisphere Research, most DBAs are responsible for multiple database technologies from several vendors, most commonly Oracle, SQL Server, and MySQL. In fact, more than a quarter manage 26 to 100 databases at any given time. This push toward database diversity leads to an increasingly complex role for the DBA, who must learn to adapt and transition from one area of comfort to managing multiple DBMS platforms.

The Accidental Cloud DBA—As cloud becomes a viable alternative for deploying applications, most organizations are transitioning to a hybrid IT strategy. In fact, a recent SolarWinds survey of IT professionals found that 92% believe adopting cloud technologies is important to their organizations’ long-term success.

However, this transition creates new complexities and challenges for DBAs as they ultimately remain responsible for data performance on premises and in the cloud.

Meeting These Challenges and Staying Relevant

Develop an Application-Centric Mindset—What matters to businesses most is that applications are working well all the time, because every business, and every component of every business, is now dependent on applications. If there is a drop in application performance, business comes to a halt. The modern DBA needs to think about application uptime and performance first and foremost—end-user experience metrics are now part of the CIO’s SLA.

Make Monitoring a Priority—Given the importance of application performance, which depends largely on database performance, database monitoring needs to become a priority. DBAs should measure performance not based on an infrastructure resources perspective but on wait times. Wait-time analysis gives DBAs a view into what end users are waiting for and what the database is waiting for, providing clearer visibility into bottlenecks.

Furthermore, DBAs should work with the rest of the IT department to implement monitoring tools that provide visibility across the entire application stack, including the infrastructure that supports the database—virtualization layers, database servers, hosts, storage systems, networks, etc. The end goal is to achieve performance certainty.

Become a Technology Advisor for the Business—The push toward database diversity means crucial decisions on which DBMSs to implement need to be made based on business objectives.

There are many things to consider in selecting the right mix of DBMSs for any given environment, including the role of open source DBMSs. Once these decisions are made, DBAs should have a common set of goals, metrics, and SLAs across all databases—ideally based on application response times, not only uptime—and use tools that provide a single dashboard of performance and the ability to drill down across database technologies and across deployment methods, including the cloud.

Speaking of which, DBAs must be selective about what to move to the cloud and when. This requires education on how to use it in such a way that it will derive the most benefit. When considering which databases to move to the cloud, DBAs should take into account data transfer process and latency and how to maintain databases in sync, if required, especially if applications need to integrate with others that are not in the same cloud deployment.

As I have stated before, DBAs will be needed for a long time. However, that doesn’t mean the role of the DBA is not evolving, and that new tools, technologies, and skills are not needed for every DBA to stay relevant today—and into the future.