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Databases – Infrastructure – Security

Brian Kelley is an author, columnist, and Microsoft SQL Server MVP focusing primarily on SQL Server security. He is a contributing author for How to Cheat at Securing SQL Server 2005 (Syngress), Professional SQL Server 2008 Administration (Wrox), and Introduction to SQL Server (Texas Publishing). Brian currently serves as an infrastructure and security architect. He has also served as a senior Microsoft SQL Server DBA, database architect, developer, and incident response team lead.

What is an “operational” DBA?

On Facebook last night, I posted the following:

An operational DBA isn’t just a manager of a traditional RDBMS, transactional system. An operational DBA manages the data platform, whatever it is, when it hits production. Their goals are not traditionally the same as someone focused on development. They are looking to keep the system secure, performing well, and ensure it is recoverable in case of failure/disaster. This could be over a traditional system, a no-SQL solution, a warehousing solution built around star/snowflake schemas, or anything that has to do with data storage, management, and retrieval. If you think an operational DBA is a manager of just a transactional system, please update your definition. Operations has changed greatly in the last decade to keep pace with development and business.

The reason I posted this is because I saw some indications that there is a misunderstanding of what an operational DBA is nowadays. Not surprisingly, this misunderstanding came from folks who aren’t in an operational role. Here’s the gist of what an operational DBA is typically concerned with:

  • Production security
  • Production performance / reliability
  • Production recovery

I’m not ranking those in order of importance. The order of those three items depends on the environment. I’ve been in environments where security was more important performance / reliability or recovery (military). I’ve also been in environments where performance /reliability was king.

Note that I didn’t include a particular type of platform. That’s on purpose. I also didn’t indicate whether or not production was on premise or hosted. That’s also on purpose. If you’re still thinking that an operational DBA is only concerned with the care and feeding of an on-premise transactional SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, MySQL/MariaDB, etc. platform, it’s time to update your thinking. An operational DBA takes over when a system transfers from Dev/QA/UAT to production, when it becomes operational (hence the name). Platform, type, where it’s hosted, and those types of details are irrelevant if the system is about data management and it just rolled to production. While there are some operational DBAs who solely focus on transactional systems, that’s not true of all operational DBAs. And that’s not what we operational types mean when we say, “operations.”


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