Where is the DBA role heading? Let me know at TechEd.

Good Morning,

I recently completed reading several articles and industry studies that seem to indicate something that you as a DBA likely already know and feel on a daily basis.  The role of the DBA continues to expand and shift in responsibilities.  

Most studies and articles seem to find there are currently three (broad) categories of DBAs:

  • Operations or Systems DBA: a DBA who's primary focus is to keep an existing database environment up and running.
  • Developer, Project or Application DBA: a DBA who's primary focus is to either develop or assist in the development or implementation of a new database system or line of business application
  • Jack of All Trades: an IT generalist or developer (typically in a smaller firms) that is also responsible for implementing and keeping a database system up and running.

There are also some significant trends in the industry affecting the responsibilities that DBAs undertake:

  • Growth in data volumes
  • Increased adoption of BI tools by end users
  • Adoption and use of new data platforms (Microsoft Sharepoint, Open source databases, etc.)
  • Server consolidation, virtualization and utility computing
  • Heterogeneous environments
  • Software as a Service and Outsourcing 

So what do these trends mean for the DBA role of the future?  

I expect that many of you will agree that these trends are likely to continue and accelerate.  As a result DBAs and their organizations will face larger deployments and larger data environments increasingly running under virtualized environments.  DBAs will also face a new set of end users and information workers subscribing to larger datasets.  These users will look to DBAs as their partners in answering increasingly complex business questions.   DBAs of the future have the opportunity to leverage their knowledge of the organization's data to drive business value in a partnership with information workers.

So where will the DBA find the time to partner with the information workers?

What does the Magic 8 ball say?   I believe a significant portion of that freed time will come from continued automation of the responsibilities most typically associated with the Operations DBA.

As I write this I can't help but think of the Elton John lyric "the king must die, long live the king" and the Mark Twain quote "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

To be clear, the role will likely never fully go away, but a shift will occur, with the database system taking on much more self-management capabilities, enabling the DBA to focus more of his or her time on application, project and business intelligence related responsibilities.   Day to day monitoring of operational systems will likely be combined into existing monitoring workflows by system administrators and tiered support organizations.  Management tools will increasingly simplify complex tasks so as to empower initial support tiers to undertake more tasks.

DBAs in smaller firms may also find a similar pattern initially emerge with the adoption of Software as a Service and Software + Services offerings, in effect "outsourcing" data hosting and management to the service provider. 

So what should a DBA do to prepare for the future?

In many respects, DBAs are already in a unique position in an organization.  They have been trusted with the management of one of the key assets of an organization, their data. DBAs need to become a trusted partner to the information workers, to work jointly and turn data into business value, that is to realize the potential that is stored in all that data.  That will likely mean learning the language that information workers use to describe the business, better understanding the organization's business model and business environment and the challenges faced by the information workers.

What do you think?

What are your experiences on this topic? Does this resonate with your own experience? How has your job changed in the past couple years? What additional responsibilities do you see becoming involved with in the coming year?   Let us know.

See you at TechEd 

I'll be at TechEd next week (IT Pro week) and hope to see you there and get your thoughts and guidance on the shifts you see in the role and the responsibilities of the DBA of the future.