If the modern economy runs on data, what will that mean in the coming year for database administrators, or DBAs, who know how to store it, move it, use it wisely, and keep it safe?
For almost any company, data is lifeblood. It’s the when, where, who, how much, and increasingly the why of everything an organization does. It tells you what inventory is in stock, who moved it, who bought it, what color it was. It tells you who goes to your school and who paid their traffic ticket. The list is ever expanding—and that data holds penetrating answers for those who know what to ask and how to ask it.
That means good companies will value the people quietly at the center of this vital hub of business, and that’s good for your career.
Viscosity North America CIO Rich Niemiec helps his clients wrestle with the future, including autonomous tech and robotics.
Courtesy of Viscosity North America
“I think the DBAs are some of the most knowledgeable people in a company,” says Rich Niemiec, CIO at the database and cloud advisory firm Viscosity North America. “You have to be extremely smart and stay up-to-date” to do the job, he says, because DBAs must provide a steady hand on the vital data resource amid careening new technologies and emerging threats. With their deep knowledge of what’s possible with data, “the DBA is probably the most overworked yet not efficiently utilized person in a company,” he says.
Changing that situation requires DBAs changing how they work and where they focus. As the Oracle Autonomous Database takes on previously manual DBA tasks—such as system patching, updating, securing, configuring, and tuning, all without downtime—DBAs are going to have more time and opportunity to flex their data management muscles, Niemiec says. Here, Niemiec and several other seasoned DBAs share their 2020 priorities for the DBA, providing the steps needed to become even more valuable in their organizations.
Understand what database automation means for your job: “First priority for 2020,” says Niemiec, “is to start preparing for automation that’s better than you at some important things.” One of those things is keeping data secure, which is the absolute highest priority of a DBA these days, he says. “Autonomous databases are a big change and a big opportunity to up your security game.”
Niemiec provides an example: “A vulnerability is found in some corner of the globe…and what happens? You find out about it maybe a day later. You wait and see if there’s a patch, you don’t have time to patch it yet, maybe it’ll be this weekend,” he says. “And pretty soon you have the equivalent of what happened to your poor competitor” who ended up on the front page of the paper for losing customer data. With Oracle Autonomous Database, as soon as a patch is available for a vulnerability, it is applied with no downtime.
Always ask, “What was created to surpass you?” and be ready to make it work for you and not against you, Niemiec says. On the patching front, Oracle Autonomous Database certainly surpasses the human DBA.
Part of a DBA’s value is that they understand what data the company has and…how they might be able to use it.
Connect data to new machine learning opportunities: Part of a DBA’s value is that “they understand what data the company has and…how they might be able to use it,” says Niemiec. This year, find new ways to make it available to end users. For example, “a DBA can show their company the machine learning capabilities in the database” for doing data science, Niemiec says. “If your primary data is in Oracle Database, [then] using Oracle’s machine learning, instead of moving the data, is a huge advantage.”
The built-in machine learning capabilities are intuitive to use. “And it can tell you some of the trends of your own data before you even ask for it,” he says. “Maybe you know who your best customers are, but machine learning can show you customers you aren’t leveraging fully.” As of December 2019, there is no longer any extra charge for these machine learning capabilities, since they’re now included with Oracle Database.
Move from managing the database to managing many data sources: In 2020, DBAs can use their knowledge of Oracle Database and SQL language skills to make other important data management tools more secure and manageable, Niemiec says.
It’s “not just the database, but all that streaming IoT data, all that big data from sources like Hadoop or other NoSQL databases, as well as data flowing between multiple clouds,” Niemiec says. Part of a DBA’s job “is to figure out how to move data from place to place, or access data from place to place.” Luckily, you can go through your Oracle Database using tools like Oracle Big Data SQL and make the process more manageable at scale and a lot more secure. “If I understand Oracle, I understand 90% of the data sources out there, because Oracle Database is the most sophisticated tool,” he says.
Give others visibility and (some) control of their databases: Naveen Garg leads a small team of DBAs managing hundreds of databases, many of them terabytes in size, with data about the fast-flowing inventory of the world’s biggest players in the telecommunication industry.
To cope with the volume, Garg’s DBAs have deputized application teams to keep an eye on their own databases. Like most large Oracle Database users, Garg’s team uses Oracle Enterprise Manager as the dashboard for all database activities. But that same tool also lets them give custom dashboards to developers and application managers. Those teams are super concerned about their one or two databases and thus will track their database graphs in Oracle Enterprise Manager “pretty much all day long,” Garg says, “and they’re more familiar with their pattern than we are because I can’t sit and watch 100 databases at the same time.”
The nice thing for Garg’s team: Since those groups now trust what they see about the database performance in Oracle Enterprise Manager, they no longer automatically blame the database for slowdowns in their applications, “and they’ll check the server or the network or the application,” he says. And if they do see something odd in their Oracle Enterprise Manager dashboard, “I’m getting a call from them saying, ‘Hey, Naveen, can you check my database?’” he says. “So essentially what we’ve done, we’ve used enterprise manager to turn a lot of the software developers into half-DBAs.” (Oracle Enterprise Manager gets a big update this month.)
Learn from your peers: The launch of Oracle Autonomous Database in 2018 prompted a lot of questions for DBAs, says Sai Penumuru, chief technologist at DXC Technology and president of the All India Oracle Users Group (AIOUG).
Sai Penumuru is president of the All India Oracle Users Group (AIOUG) and chief technologist at DXC Technology.
They worried about what increased automation would mean for their careers. User groups like AIOUG and similar groups all over the world provide one of the best places to get real answers. “It’s where peers from all sorts of backgrounds open your eyes to possibilities,” he says. Penumuru’s user group ran events in 10 cities and drew more than 15,000 technologists in 2019.
“We are running events like Oracle Autonomous day, blockchain day, AI and machine learning day. These are huge things to learn. But there’s still a lot of backup and recovery and patching to be done, and our members talk together about all that, too,” he says. “Plus, we do a lot of networking.”
In 2020, DBAs should hit their local user group to “just come and try, see what is actually good for your next move,” Penumuru says. “For example, with Oracle Autonomous Database, you can come and actually practice using machine learning notebooks” and all the other database capabilities such as Spatial and Graph or In-Memory capabilities that are now included with the Autonomous Database. Oracle now has an Always Free set of services that give DBAs and developers two instances of Oracle Autonomous Database and enough Oracle Cloud Infrastructure capacity to create some meaningful projects. “A free account is provided from Oracle, and user groups provide the events and the peer guidance,” Penumuru says. “So why don’t you start here?”
Rich Neimiec reminds DBAs to take stock of their skills and knowledge, and in 2020 apply those assets in new ways in their companies and projects. “In the digital age, they’re maybe the most under-leveraged talent a company has,” he says. “And the reason why is because they’re doing something very important.”