Inside the Outsourced World of Remote Database Services

eWEEK recently talked to several U.S.-based remote database providers, including Bluewolf, dbaDirect and Database Specialists, to get a better sense of what data management outsourcing for the enterprise is like, and the challenges of being an outsourcer.

The majority of enterprise customers have database administrators in-house and can't really run IT without some form of them internally. So conceded U.S.-based remote database providers Database Specialists, dbaDirect and Bluewolf, which eWEEK recently talked with to get a better sense of what data management outsourcing for the enterprise is like, and the challenges of being an outsourcer.

However, the providers added, although data management is so crucial to large businesses that it has to be secured and managed internally, there is a complementary role they can play in the monitoring, maintenance and production work-the administrative tasks that can bog down in-house DBA staffs that are awash in business-driven technology projects and processes.

But it's not just about the administration.

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Providers that eWEEK talked to pointed out how there is a need for assistance with migrations, version upgrades, payment processing, quality assurance, recurring backup and recovery work-a whole ecosystem of data management that creates a market for their services because even the largest of IT departments can be stifled by budgetary constraints. Money and the labor to support initiatives may be tighter, but projects haven't totally ceased.

Providers also talked up the value of being an independent check and balance environment for their customers to help minimize mistakes, catch issues faster and support challenging change management projects.

"How do you do best practices and give the best technology stack that is compliant and secure for data management?" asked dbaDirect CEO John Bostick, whose company has a large U.S. presence but also utilizes offshore employees. "We deal with a lot of financial companies, and so we have to go through constant risk management audit, and so what we are able to do is engineer the environment-whether it be Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase, UDB DB2-for mass customization to the customer's needs."

Bay Area-based Database Specialists is mostly an Oracle shop and has been in business since 1995. It launched its Remote DBA service in 2000. CEO David Wolff emphasized that his company is more than just a small group (12 DBAs) because the company has a proprietary database monitoring tool. Known as Database RX, this tool, Wolff claims, is a major benefit to customers because it's "a whole lot more robust than any of the off-the-shelf database monitoring tools like EMC's Patrol product that's out there. Our monitoring agent never touches the data and sends our daily reports via an encrypted e-mail."

New York City-based Bluewolf, which does IT job placement as well as having a SAAS (software-as-a-service) implementation product, stresses that those companies that hire contract DBA services asks why pay for something at a high hourly rate when you can get work agreed to by task, and be accounted for and backed by service-level guarantees?

"We are big proponents of making our remote DBA service employees visit on-site regularly," said Rick Boccard, a director at Bluewolf. "And by extension, our DBAs become important members of a customer's team, but [our customers do] not have the big expense of hourly contracts, where it can be difficult to map every task in hourly time. We make our service about tasks and charge a flat fee for the variety of agreed-upon tasks, which helps cut out some of the waste of contract work."

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While cost savings can be the initial driver of business for these providers, it ultimately comes down to giving high-quality customer service that leads to being viewed not simply as an outsourcer but as a key business partner.

"We like to call this 'resourcing' rather than 'outsourcing,'" said Wolff. "There are plenty of offshore providers who may have decent tools, but lousy services. We're here, in the U.S., and for most customers, we are in their time zone, which can make a huge difference in terms of service."

"CIOs I talk to regularly want their own DBAs on their highly visible projects," said Bostick, whose dbaDirect has more than 130 employees globally managing more than 3,000 databases. "But they also want the kind of pay-as-you-go flexibility that you see happening in cloud computing and software as a service offers, so we have to adjust our product models to give both on-demand, as-needed services as well as continuous service assurance. ... One of the things that we in this industry constantly stress is that, hey, look, we're not competing for existing DBA jobs-we're just offering additional help for those that need it."