DBAs Will Thrive and Multiply

Opinion: Database administrators will have to evolve, but they're going to be needed more than ever in the future.

I saw a recent online poll asking the question "Will automation make the DBAs job obsolete?"

Over 73 percent of the 726 people who responded felt that automation would never make the database administrators job obsolete.

No surprise really, since the poll was taken on a site that caters to DBAs.

The interesting fact is that 26 percent of the respondents only gave the position another 10 years at most before it faded away.

Call me a half-full kind of guy, but that sounds awfully pessimistic.

I fail to see the angst here. Yes, self-managing databases are becoming a reality, but this is not bad news.

Did the ditch digger get upset when the steam shovel was invented? I dont think so.

If you like numbers that at least sound official, I checked out the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics Web page for some insight.

For those of you out there who believe everything the government says, take heart because the BLS predicts that the database administrator position will increase by 92.4 percent by 2012 over its 2002 levels.

Indeed, of all the IT-related professional occupations they list, the DBA position has the second-highest growth projection.

Now before all of you DBAs and DBA-wannabes get too excited, database administrator positions only make up 0.8 percent of all the IT professional jobs—less than 20,000 workers. So its an exclusive club, relatively speaking.

I personally am bullish on the prospects for DBA employment in the future. I give it a five-star rating. A two thumbs up.

The reality is that there is so much work to do from a data management perspective, its hard to imagine why there is even a concern.

DBA skill sets are invaluable when you consider the sheer scope of tasks facing organizations to manage physically instantiated data.

We may in fact be entering the golden era for DBAs. Consider the fact that its taken us almost 40 years to reach a point where we could actually stop worrying about implementing the plumbing, those applications that enable the business to function.

The ones that take orders, manage inventory, pay bills, collect money.

Now that that work is done, companies are beginning to focus their attention on analyzing their own data in new and profound ways.

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Look no further than the success that a company like Teradata has enjoyed over the past three years.

Considered a forgotten niche player back in 2000 when everyone was worrying about becoming an e-business, Teradata not only stuck to its vision and its belief in the value of data warehousing, it pushed the envelope by suggesting that companies would need business analytics in real-time or near-real-time.

Their concept of "active" data warehousing raised a number of eyebrows, especially for companies with much lower expectations for their analytic infrastructure.

But this was not a pipe dream; several companies now leverage their analytic environment to support their operational applications (the plumbing ones I mentioned earlier) in near-real-time, and more and more companies want to learn how they, too, can leverage all the data they collect to automate business decisions.

To be successful, companies need people with skill sets for understanding how to size and build scalable, yet cost effective infrastructures. DBAs can do this.

Compliance is another huge driver. Much of the regulatory legislation already in place and those yet to come undoubtedly will have implications on how we manage our information in the physical world.

This is a particular strength of the DBA: how data is secured, highly available, and how it is made interoperable among disparate systems.

These are all areas that make the skill sets of the DBA in such demand.

Now, dont misunderstand me; the DBA Im talking about will have a broader skill set than many current practitioners.

They will require a better understanding of the business side of things—both the short term goals and the broader, long-term plans for which the DBA must help create a data management infrastructure that is adaptable.

They will be much more involved in application development than ever before.

They will have to be visionary on subjects such as data lifecycle management and smarter replication or reuse of physically stored data.

Most importantly, the DBA of the future needs to get over any specific affinity for one DBMS versus another.

The DBA must become instead an honest technology broker who can match the right tool for the right job.

So what I am describing is a position that will be more sophisticated in its practice but perhaps less focused on daily operational tasks.

Those will be handled by either the database or more junior staff.

In a sense, this is fitting for an industry that perhaps is finally out of its adolescence. Certainly there will be DBAs that will resist growing up. Those Peter Pans in the crowd.

Oops, there goes that cup-is-half-full part of me again.

Charles Garry is an independent industry analyst based in Simsbury, Conn. He is a former vice president with META Groups Technology Research Services. He can be reached at cegarry@yahoo.com.

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