How to Decide if Remote Database Admins Are Right for You

If you are looking to outsource some of your database operations, here are a few things to consider.

Choosing whether or not to go with a remote database administrator to complement or fulfill your data management needs requires careful contemplation.

The market for remote database administration is fairly crowded. However, the service does not make sense for every business, and contrary to what is sure to be many people's first thought, having a remote DBA versus an on-site DBA, is not always an either-or type of situation. For some organizations, it may make sense for a remote DBA to serve as an adjunct to an internal DBA.

It comes down to what the specific needs of the organization are. However, there are numerous questions to keep in mind when considering a remote DBA-for example, the scope of the services being offered and the security of the vendor's data center.

"I think the key consideration is understanding if the provider's management processes are better defined, managed, automated, audited, etc. than yours are," said Jasmine Noel, an analyst at Ptak, Noel & Associates. "If their processes are not streamlined and efficient, the cost savings are not real because you are not really getting a DBA are only getting an off-site database monitoring service with some automated report generation and very basic troubleshooting."

"The other thing to consider is how far the provider will go in troubleshooting complex problems that involve interactions between the database-application-network," she added. "Remember the reason you have a database is not just to store data, it is to make the data available to network applications. What happens when the end-to-end service performance is degrading but all the metrics from the database, application and network infrastructure monitors are showing green?"

There are a number of companies in the business of remote database administration. Some of the pure-play ones include The Pythian Group, dbaDirect and Ntirety. Larger vendors include Oracle, IBM and Electronic Data Systems. Overseas vendors include Satyam Computer Services, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro.

The smaller pure-play vendors tend to focus solely on remote database administration, and may best suit databases less than 500 GB in size, according to Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna. The larger companies, meanwhile, can support databases into terabytes, he added.

"Organizations should have well-defined, documented databases and applications before considering (remote database administration)," Yuhanna said. "You don't expect remote DBA providers to fix your car if the car is already broken. Ensure that the car is running properly with zero issues-it's documented on steps to perform if there are issues-and how it integrates with other databases and applications."

At Ntirety, customers are assigned a team of five to seven DBAs based in the United States and Canada to work with them. Ntirety CEO Michael Corey said the company looks to automate many processes businesses do not do internally.

"For example, one customer required three man-hours each day to create a log of back up files required by federal regulators," he said. "We were able to write a script to complete the same work automatically, saving the business 15 man-hours per week."

Effectively administering a database remotely also requires the remote DBA provider has an understanding of an organization's applications and processes. Paul Vallee, president and founder of The Pythian Group, said in this regard, remote DBAs are no different than a new in-house hire.

"On day one, we will be contributing primarily our technical expertise while being complete rookies on the internal company-specific applications and processes," he said. "As time goes on, however, our expertise on the in-house specifics will increase much in the same way a new hire will gain that expertise over time."

The nature of those business processes and data, however, can sometimes be the very reason companies hesitate to outsource their DBA functions. In the financial services industry, for example, organizations have to be able to ensure their data is managed by trusted providers.

"It makes sense for many but not all businesses, and sometimes more as a means of establishing control and developing internal capabilities...(it's) largely a function of requirements in terms of security, privacy, and end-to-end control," said Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly.