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What does a Database Administrator (DBA) actually do?

When faced with smaller organisations where Database Administration is undertaken by an IT ‘generalist’, Infrastructure or Development team, we sometimes get asked “why do I need a DBA?”.

To summarise, a DBA’s job is to ensure data to the application tier is performant, secure and recoverable. A Database Administrator’s job is never done, and the bigger companies get and the more they rely on data and applications, the more critical the role of the DBA becomes.

A competent DBA, on a day to day basis, will typically perform the following tasks:

Troubleshoot – typically calls from 2nd/3rd line, infrastructure and development teams, a DBA should be available immediately to ensure the problem doesn’t get any worse and, of course, resolve the reported issue

Storage and Capacity Planning – A database’s primary purpose is to store and retrieve data. Therefore a good DBA should be able to monitor storage and CPU usage, track trends and ensure enough compute will always be available to meet service levels

Data Security – Ensure security patches are applied and understand the implications these have to the application and infrastructure. A DBA should have fundamental understanding of Data Security, however this is sometimes a specialist field requiring specific knowledge

Performance Tuning and Monitoring – Bottlenecks, slow processes and database usage stats; a good DBA will ensure the ongoing configuration of the environment. Good processes need to be in place in terms of OLAs/SLAs as to what baseline performance is expected from the database

Backup and Recovery – DBAs will periodically test the backup for the databases they manage. Whilst a System Admin or Infrastructure guy may backup from a server perspective, the DBA needs to be able to recover at file level.

Process / Procedure Adherence – being stuck between the Application and Infrastructure guys, Change Management and other applicable processes are essential for a DBA. A competent DBA will ensure none of the above tasks will have impact the overall service the IT as a team is providing. Changes to the Database must be documented and in line/agreement with the Infrastructure and Application teams.

These are just a few tasks and responsibilities of a competent DBA. Unfortunately, competent DBA’s are a rare breed. And the good ones often get bored to go contracting.

At dsp we offer a DBA Managed Service to resolve the headache of hiring a team of DBA’s. The service can plug in and adapt to an organisation’s team, reporting to either a Development or Infrastructure head. Whilst organisations may want to increase their headcount and want to exploit the “benefits” of hiring internally, when costs and service value is weighed up, it’s hard to see why our service wouldn’t be considered!

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