Craig S. Mullins
Database Performance Management

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September 2001


The DBA Corner
by Craig S. Mullins  

The Role of the DBA Has Expanded

The DBA Corner is a new monthly feature of Database Trends and Applications focusing on the tasks and issues surrounding the effective implementation, administration and support of complex database management systems – in other words, database administration.

To some the term database administration implies a limited role within the scope of IT, namely the administration of databases. But this is so only for those who have never been a DBA. In today’s modern IT organization the true role of the DBA is much more expansive. Modern database management systems provide more functionality than just data management. The DBMS can store and run program code in the form of stored procedures, triggers, and user-defined functions. And business rules and constraints are defined inside the DBMS that impact application functionality.

Furthermore, the DBMS is at the center of most modern application systems. Technology and business requirements come together to deliver business solutions with the DBMS as the central point of convergence. And the DBA is the guardian of the DBMS.

The DBA must possess a mixture of technical expertise, political savvy, leadership and business knowledge to succeed. The ongoing theme of the DBA Corner will be to analyze and discuss the changing role of the DBA.

Today’s DBAs face many challenges including multi-tier architectures, distributed data and applications, data warehousing, replication and transformation of data, Internet-enabled databases and applications and the need to store and manipulate complex multimedia data. The DBA is right in the middle of this technology tsunami. Many organizations have multiple DBMS technologies with data spread out among 20, 50, or more databases. To be effective, the DBA must possess a myriad of management skills. Depth of knowledge is required because data is central to most systems and the DBMS is often perceived (correctly or incorrectly) as a bottleneck to performance. Performance degradation can occur at any point within the environment and the DBA must know how to correct the cause of the degradation.

Coupled with the technology challenges are business issues such as globalization that drives up availability requirements, time-to-market pressures that wreak havoc on development schedules, and adapting the organization to a combination of in-house and purchased applications. The DBA cannot focus exclusively on technology or he will fail.

Some DBA duties, such as data modeling and design, combine technology and business issues. The DBA can not design a database without an understanding of how it will be used by the business. A data model represents a technology independent view of the data, but a DBA must be able to create a data model and adapt it technologically into an optimal physical database design. Such skills are not easily obtained.

To accurately build databases, and then manage data quality, integrity and security, a thorough understanding of the data from a business perspective is mandatory. All of these trends, covering both technology and business issues, that impact the DBA will be examined in future columns. We will focus on trying to answer some key questions about the nature and scope of modern database administration, such as:

§         How can DBAs manage a complex, heterogeneous, distributed database environment that is constantly changing?

§         How can DBAs maintain focus and deliver service to their end users as the DBMS continues to evolve to manage more than just data?

§         As technology rapidly changes how can DBAs introduce those changes into their systems with minimal, or no impact to the business users?

§         What tools and products can be used to streamline and optimize database systems administration?

Additionally, the DBA Corner from time to time will examine how technology trends in other systems management disciplines relate to database administration. For example, how can database change management be integrated with the greater change management needs of the IT organization, or the company in general? Or how can DBAs integrate their jobs and tasks into the larger IT infrastructure in terms of job scheduling, system security, or automated operations?

DBAs have difficult jobs that require a delicate balance of business and technology; leadership and understanding. Indeed, the role of the DBA is changing. Let the DBA Corner be your guiding light to understanding these changes and how they impact database administration.

From Database Trends and Applications, September 2001.

© 2001 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.