SQLServerCentral Article

Virtualization and the existential angst of the DBA


Long since the humble typewriter went the way of the dinosaur, many of our most talented and successful authors maintain intense, long-term relationships with their machine. They feel in some deep and inexplicable way that their typewriter, as the conduit of their feelings and ideas into paper form, is "personally responsible" for the creation of their novel. Hunter S. Thomson famously shot his typewriter, on several occasions, to punish it for non-compliance.

Whenever I talk to a DBA who learned their trade the fun way, by building database systems from scratch, using various patched together pieces of hardware, I sense the same sort of bond. Their machine is an integral part of the applications that run on it. Their understanding of the hardware is as integral to their confidence that they can meet the demands and expectations of the users, as is their knowledge of database design and query tuning.

Of course, as the DBA moves on to bigger systems, supporting complex applications and huge amounts of data, so a level of control is inevitably lost; a loss felt keenly the first time a DBA encounters the brick wall that is the SAN administer. At the PASS summit last year, I heard Rodney Landrum speak wistfully of how his key fob no longer got him into his server room…."I once snuck in after a sys admin; it was cold in there and I spotted what I thought might be one of my servers…". Some DBAs aren't even allowed to RDP into their own servers.

This sense of separation is likely to increase of course, with the advent of public and private clouds. As Brent Ozar observes, in regard to recent VMware innovations …." Hardware is cheap – especially compared to salaries. Why not throw another blade in whenever we add another dozen databases? Let VMware manage the load by moving things around automatically."

I don't know any DBAs who are luddites. Technology moves on and DBAs must adapt accordingly, or follow the Throstle Spinners, Turnspits, and Sagger maker's Bottom-knockers into professional oblivion. However for, DBAs whose wisdom and knowledge, whose trust in their ability to fulfil their responsibilities, is tied up in their hands-on, blood and guts knowledge of the hardware, the transition is hard, and I will spare a thought for their existential suffering.