The Changing Role of the Database Administrator (DBA)

Before the cloud, companies would typically have a team of database administrators (DBAs) and database specialists with one mission: To stand up and maintain the chosen database solution for the entire company. The DBAs who work with that database develop deep expertise in the management and maintenance of the particular database system. Since they have invested significant time and money in this solution, they use it for every workload, even when there may be better options.

However, with more choices for managed database solutions in the cloud, the DBA role is morphing into an increasingly more interesting role. Today’s DBAs are no longer siloed to focus on just one solution. Furthermore, many are finding their job is more software-based and less about provisioning and managing hardware. It’s an exciting time to be a DBA, with expanded responsibilities and opportunities to develop strategic business solutions with the development team. As such, it’s a great time for DBAs (and those looking to move into a role focused on database technology) to seek training and hands-on education to help skill or upskill their expertise. 

Let’s take a look at the responsibilities DBAs have traditionally held, and how the evolution of the cloud has changed the way DBAs are approaching their work. 

Capacity Planning 

Traditionally, database capacity planning meant provisioning server capacity for peak load, so most of the time you are paying for resources that are not fully utilized. This is not only costly, but also much less flexible. However, since cloud-hosted databases are elastic, their storage and compute capacity can be dynamically and automatically scaled to meet changes in demand. Software APIs are typically used to configure automated responses to monitored metrics and alarms. Additionally, some cloud databases are serverless, which means that there are no servers or virtual machines to provision at all. 

Database Backup and Recovery

The traditional backup method for databases involves storing and maintaining physical backup devices such as tapes. For safety, the tapes are stored offsite, which is cumbersome to manage and can limit the recovery time. The cloud offers simpler and more durable storage solutions that automatically keep multiple copies of backup data in multiple physical locations. There are no physical storage devices for the DBA to manage, so backups and recovery can be scripted and automated. 

Choosing the Optimal Database Solution 

Cloud platforms offer new options for teams of builders to have purpose-built database options that range from both self-managed and fully-managed relational, NoSQL options, key-value pair, document, in-memory, columnar, graph, time-series, and more. This means a database specialist, not just an administrator, needs to be aware of these choices and how to apply them to specific use cases and application deployment requirements. For instance, a database specialist can partner with development teams to choose the purpose-built database solution that is best suited for the type of data and required access patterns, as well as meets the performance, durability, and scalability requirements at the lowest cost. 

Understanding how to map application requirements to database needs in order to optimize for scale, performance, and cost efficiency becomes increasingly complex and fun as database administrators have more options and solutions. 

Designing for the Workload

With the shift to managed cloud services, there is less need for database administrators to spend much of their time performing routine management tasks such as patching, upgrading, and installing database engines. They can now be consultative in assisting application developers to choose the correct database service for a specific workload, as well as performing a reduced set of administrative tasks.

Continued Training and Education

Today’s database professionals are encouraged to take advantage of continued education and accreditation options to stay current with industry trends and innovations. AWS Training and Certification offers an expanded lineup of resources, training courses, and a new AWS Certified Databases – Specialty certification—all of which help database professionals learn how to select the right database solution and validate their database expertise. 

Again, the opportunities for DBAs to have a wide-ranging impact on the organization has never been greater. There are more data and databases in the world than ever before, and that will only continue. The DBA is a mission-critical role that offers rewarding growth opportunities. 

Kevin Kelly is Director of Certification and Education Programs at Amazon Web Services (AWS), where he leads global education programs and the AWS Certification team, managing the development and delivery of AWS Certifications for foundational cloud knowledge, and roles such as developers, architects, and cloud operations, and in technical topics such as Machine Learning, Security, and Alexa skill building.

One Response to “The Changing Role of the Database Administrator (DBA)”

  1. Jeffrey Cote

    Well, Kevin Kelly, I’ve been an Oracle DBA for almost 25 years. Sure, when I first started, tape silo backups were the only way to go. The fact you write about them as though it’s how we still maintain backups is ridiculous. I haven’t written a backup to tape since before 2010, and even then it was considered “old school”. Admittedly, I appreciate AWS and what it offers in scalability to databases, but please don’t attempt to make it look like what it has to offer is light years beyond current database technology.