Top 10 Things the Best DBAs Do

Top 10 Things the Best DBAs Do

Today’s enterprise databases are expanding oceans of data that need careful protection so data can be delivered effectively to the business. Tasks that are expected of the DBA (database administrator) are many and varied. New database features and functionality, continuous database evolution in the cloud, and advanced security options increase the skill set DBAs need to be effective. This ever-increasing demand creates significant challenges for the DBA to fulfill the extremely critical role of the strategic data advisor to the business. 

The DBA knows the databases better than anyone else in the enterprise. That means it is critical they have a strategic seat at the table to help the enterprise plan the future of data for their company. For the DBA to effectively meet this crucial need, we first need to understand what is already on their plate. But, what are the most important responsibilities a DBA performs, and how can they be the best at what they do?

Top 10 Responsibilities a DBA Performs

1. Protect the Data  

Ensure data integrity, reliability, and security. Integrity ensures the value of the data because bad data has no value. Security is controlled typically with authentication and privileges, but there is much more available through auditing, encryption, and design methods. This is critical for Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, HIPAA, and other regulatory requirements. This responsibility also includes security patches and software upgrades. No one wants to be the next company featured in the news for a data breach.

2. Installation and Configuration of the Database 

Time spent on installation will reduce the digital footprint and cycles spent on supporting unnecessary features. The configuration and parameter setup of each database needs to be based on knowledge of the database design and intended usage. This will reduce bloatware, ensure that appropriate database features are available for the applications, and that the databases are well-tuned for ultimate performance.

3. Backup and Recovery 

Determine the best number of backups kept and plan off-site storage. The wise DBA will test the restore procedure on a regular basis to verify that all required parts are available in case of disaster.

4. Data Movement 

This can include database or cross-platform moves, ETL for data warehouses, populating new servers, or daily data moves for reporting purposes. Code changes require up-to-date database environments for development and testing with enough data to simulate performance in production. Creating and refreshing development, test, and/or acceptance environments is essential. 

5. Troubleshooting 

Whenever an incident occurs, end-users and management see an unavailability of data and point to the database. The DBA needs to investigate whether the cause is hardware, software, network, tuning, or a database issue. With a database slowdown, the DBA has the most insight to figure out which resource the database is waiting for. Additionally, they are often responsible for debugging or providing performance improvements to the application. 

6. Performance and Tuning 

Even with a great database design, there are times when performance is an issue. It could be that the data has grown, causing processes to run more slowly. Or, the business may have new data reports and access methods that were not considered in the initial design. These situations require detailed analysis to resolve. This may include data structure changes, SQL tuning, indexes, views, archiving old data, application logic, and analysis of the database configuration. 

7. Data Modeling and Database Design 

A good data model not only supports the business needs of the enterprise, it also saves millions of dollars and hours of time. Bad designs and code are highly inefficient and create tremendous performance issues that are all too often solved by adding hardware and software. While this may work, it is far better to start with a well-thought-out design. While applications teams are often tasked with this, involving a DBA in database design is critical to avoid hours spent later repairing data structures and trying to improve performance. 

8. Capacity Planning

It is critical to ensure the server resources are appropriate for the size, growth, and desired response time of the database. Without proper planning, DBAs spend early morning or late evening hours dealing with surprises like trying to find space for growing log files, increasing parameters to accommodate long-running queries, researching wait events, or analyzing excess CPU usage.

9. High Availability Planning 

This may include local and off-site standby databases, streamed or clustered databases, and other maximum availability configurations. Familiarity with the database products and features allows the DBA to recommend a high availability architecture that will avoid unnecessary downtime during patching or in case of disaster.

10. Code Walk-Throughs Prior to Go Live 

The DBA can aid the developer with performance improvements and potential issue resolution. This can require several meetings with both developers and DBAs to review the access methods, queries, and most frequent access types. Performing this step can prevent bad data, holes in security, missing indexes, painful performance issues, and inefficient coding techniques. 

As you can see, the DBA has the responsibility to guarantee that the data is secure and available, and that response time is blindingly fast. The reality is that many shops are understaffed, and the DBAs are just trying to wake up after being called at 2 AM. They spend too much time reacting and not enough time proactively planning. They end up hunting for space on overloaded disks because no one had time for capacity planning.  They are expected to provide performance analysis and tune code that was never reviewed and for which indexes were never analyzed or built. In a general sense, the first five tasks represent the tyranny of the urgent while the last five represent the critical innovative work leading to a better future.

Helping the DBA Excel, Requires Helping the DBA

If only the DBA could have time to perform the critical, proactive role of strategic data advisor, it would lead to intelligently-designed, well-built, and expertly-tuned databases. To be the best DBA, there needs to be a shift of focus. Many companies have found that they are able to offload the maintenance and 24/7 emergency support to a database managed services provider (DBMSP).  This provides the following advantages:

  • No more 2 AM wake-up calls, so the DBA is well-rested and at the top of their game
  • Many of the repetitive tasks can be delegated  
  • Time is available for critical strategic planning
  • The DBA is more valuable to the company with their strategic involvement, and those contributions are more esteemed and respected 
  • The DBA can stay current with trends and new developments leading to a wiser, more expert contribution to the company
  • Costs less than a full-time DBA, eliminating the need for a new hire to keep up with needs 
  • Long-term operational savings due to increased focus on strategic data advisor role, which includes modeling, design, capacity planning, and high-availability planning  

Planning for the Future

The best DBAs are proactive and strategic, two things many DBAs don’t have time for.  It is critical to keep the DBA focussed on strategic roles and off-loading the mundane or reactionary roles. With proper strategic planning and resourcing, you will experience:

  • Built-in data security 
  • Optimum designs and configurations, which lead to more efficient coding 
  • Ease of access
  • Better response time 

Maturing in the strategic data advisor leadership role allows the DBA to shine as they serve in the role that allows them to be the best DBA they can be. To help your DBA reach their full potential — while giving them a break from the mundane — contact our team today.