As more and more data is pumped into the cloud the necessity of the DBA is being questioned. Of course, not by DBAs, but by almost everybody else. Most DBAs are, more than likely, shaking their heads and trying to figure out why folks think they are now dispensable.
You see, the typical extolled value proposition of cloud computing is to reduce cost and minimise work. And sure, if you implement your cloud computing strategy effectively, it is possible to achieve both of these objectives. But wise organisations will not be eliminating all of their DBAs even as they move more work and data to the cloud.
So let’s say your organisation has moved one of its large enterprise databases to a managed cloud service. Doesn’t matter which one, just that the cloud database will be managed by the cloud service provider. Management looks at this and inevitably thinks “If the cloud provider is managing the database why do I need DBAs? That was their job.”
Certainly this is an understandable position unless you review what is actually going on. It gets to a basic point — one highlighted in the title of this post — that I frequently make: “Almost never say always or never or all or nothing!” Yes, the promise of cloud database is to remove tedious, rote processes like backups (note I did NOT say recovery), upgrades, and other simple administrative efforts. But it does not remove ALL of them. There are still many things that require DBA attention and you will want your DBA staff to be there to ensure that they are handled.
First, look at backup and recovery. It is definitely possible for a remote managed service provider to perform some standard backups on your databases. That said, based on your application needs and recovery time objectives, you may need more than a simple daily backup. DBAs will know this and be able to work with the cloud provider to either provide customised backup scheduling or to do it themselves.
From a recovery perspective, the cloud service provider is certainly capable of performing recovery from a catastrophic hardware failure. After all, the hardware is their responsibility, too. But what about an application recovery, where only certain transactions need to be backed out? Or what is an application process encounters an issue that requires only certain objects to be recovered? It is unlikely that your cloud provider has this level of intimate knowledge of your applications’ but your DBAs will.
And recovery is just one example. Think about software upgrades and patches. Most DBAs will be thrilled to rid themselves of this laborious and tedious task. Turning it over to the cloud service provider makes sense. But even then there are things that your DBAs must get involved with. Why is that?
Well, most cloud service providers are unwilling to take on understanding your applications. But it is not uncommon for a new DBMS version (or even a patch) to change things like reserved words or even SQL functionality. So what if an application is using one of the new reserved words as a variable? Or what if the results of an SQL statement changes because of a tweak to the results that a built-in function returns? Or what if a problem is corrected in the new version that stops some SQL from working? All of these are real examples of issues that I have faced as a DBA over the years. And they are things that your cloud service provider will not fix for you.
And one final example: most cloud service providers will put the onus of application performance on you. Sure, they will offer monitoring solutions, but interpreting the performance reports and identifying what needs to change in the application typically remains the responsibility of the client. And when it comes to database applications, that is the responsibility of DBAs (in tandem with developers at times).
There are many technical reasons that this is not so. And there are non-technical reasons, too. If you get rid of your DBAs then the only folks who will know your databases in any reasonable detail will be at your cloud service provider. This can be a recipe for disaster because the service provider will always put their companies’ best interests first, as they should. You need DBAs who put your companies’ best interests first!
So pump the brakes before saying that the cloud will make DBAs obsolete!