The Accidental DBA's Guide to Managing Critical Data while Providing Business Value

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Data is at the heart of every business process and function. It provides the meaningful insight and information needed to drive growth. Harnessing its power can create limitless opportunities. No wonder the amount of data businesses are capturing is growing at an unprecedented rate.

However, at the same time the growth in manpower needed to manage all this data remains largely stagnant. As a result, non-database administrator (DBA) IT professionals have often found themselves stepping into the DBA role to meet demands of the rapidly growing databases now found in nearly all organizations.

Managing business-critical databases is no easy task even for experienced DBAs, so for IT pros who might be new to the role—and likely already wear multiple other hats within their organization—it can be a challenging endeavor to say the least. That said, it’s not impossible. In order to successfully tackle the challenge, the first thing needed is a well-rounded understanding of the various technologies available and the skills needed to ensure proper database maintenance. Here are a few key areas where IT pros who have found themselves as accidental DBAs should start.

1-Protect Business Data

A good DBA is able to allow only the necessary access needed for critical business data while also protecting against data loss or theft, whether the result of a well-meaning insider or a malicious outsider. As highlighted by recent high profile security breaches at well-known companies like Target and Nordstrom, DBAs have to be on their toes more than ever. DBAs, accidental or not, need to possess the knowledge to recognize potential breaches and react immediately when  a breach occurs.

2-Maintain Business Continuity and Data Availability

Business leaders need access to data at all times; therefore maintaining data availability is essential to ensuring business continuity. All DBAs need to understand which systems absolutely need to be available 24/7, and which can afford to have some downtime. This involves knowing Recovery Point Objectives (RPO)—the age of files that must be recovered from backup storage in case of failure—and Recovery Time Objectives (RTO)—how long a DBA has to recover and restore processes after a failure. Deep understanding of each can lead to minimal disruption.

3-Leverage Automation for Troubleshooting and Performance Management

One way to ensure minimal disruption to critical business databases is to leverage automation tools that proactively monitor database performance and quickly troubleshoot performance issues—in many instances, before the end-user is even affected. Such automation helps IT productivity and efficiency as well, allowing the busy DBA to spend less time finding the source of performance issues and more time fixing the problem.

4-Be Mindful of the “Soft Skills”

“Hard skills” are those that, at least on the surface, are teachable. Many of the tasks that fall to DBAs fall into this category. However, “soft skills” are growing more important for IT pros looking to advance their careers, especially DBAs as data plays such a critical role in business decision making. These soft skills include things such as having a grasp of overall business management strategy, understanding company objectives and being able to effectively communicate with other teams.

5-Don’t Stop at the Data

DBAs must understand architecture, virtualization, and infrastructure. Furthermore, DBA’s need to understand the benefits of Cloud technologies such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). These technologies are the future of business IT and data management, so DBAs need to be at the cutting edge, learning and exploring these other technologies and their benefits to managing business data.

As businesses become increasingly dependent on data while IT departments remain the same size, the role of the IT pro—DBA or non-DBA—will continue to expand. To meet new IT demands brought on by the data boom, non-DBA IT pros tasked with managing databases will need a solid understanding of how to perform this job properly in order to prevent serious accidents and ultimately provide value to the business.

Thomas LaRock is a head geek at SolarWinds, a leading provider of powerful and affordable IT management software.