T-SQL Tuesday #12 – Why Do You Need a DBA?

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TSQL2sDay150x150 It’s once again time for T-SQL Tuesday, the brainchild of Adam Machanic (Blog|Twitter). It’s a monthly blog party, designed to get bloggers to all write on a single topic on the same day. This month we have the party hosted by Paul Randal with his topic of why are DBA skills necessary?

I enjoy participating, and if you want to host one of the monthly events, please contact Adam and get on the schedule. It’s not a lot of work, and it will be something that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

Is a DBA Needed?

I’ve wondered about this at a few jobs. I know when I’ve automated checks and maintenance, gotten a solid DR plan running, and tuned most of the queries that I can, life is pretty easy as a DBA. I’ve often had time to try and learn more about SQL Server, be more pro-active with developers, and even spend a few minutes at the water cooler. After 6-12 months at a few jobs, I’ve often felt like I had things in control, and I could have worked 24 hours a week and had a very stable environment. 

In fact, I tried to convince one boss of that, offering to take a pay cut and maintain his environment in 3 days a week. My boss didn’t go for it, mostly because the company didn’t want any part time people, but I think I could have saved them some money and been fine with the occasional consulting job.

Not every environment is like that, but so many consultants walk into jobs where the SQL Server isn’t performing well, and the applications are slow. A crashed server can become a major event, and even cost the company significant revenue from systems not being able to handle the load or being down.

DBAs are Insurance

At the base level, a DBA provides some insurance for one of a company’s most valuable assets: it’s data. Many DBAs, even those that don’t know how to tune queries or design databases can implement the basics of the job in two areas:

  • backup/restore
  • security

Without a doubt there are plenty of people that need to improve these skills, but most of them are better than the average system administrator. A DBA that understands these skills can really save money in a company that has any sort of disaster involving a database. I have seen many Windows administrators relying on their tape backup software and an Open file backup driver, or an agent based backup solution, most of which seem to fail when disaster strikes.

In terms of security, so often a Windows administrator will grant all read/write rights to people accessing SQL Server. Developers can be even worse, granting db_owner privileges, or even using “sa” in their applications. A DBA can ensure that more granular rights are set up, which reduces the risk of any security issues.

Even an expensive DBA provides some good insurance for a company that can pay off the first time a database needs a restore.

DBAs are an Investment

However someone that has strong skills working with SQL Server can be so much more than insurance. They can be an investment that vastly improves the amount of work that your databases systems can do.

DBAs can tune your systems. They can ensure that SQL Server is set up properly, and that proper indexing is set up. The time savings can be a huge factor in allowing employees to be more productive and produce more revenue. If you develop pieces of your own software, a DBA is a must to ensure that you have well-written code.

DBAs can find patterns in your data. I think the DBA is critical to ensuring the intelligence aspect of a BI system. The value of that should not be understated. As we capture more and more information about our businesses, it can be easy to start mis-interpreting or mis-understanding the meaning of that data. A good DBA will understand the business and the data, and help the company to understand what information is contained in the data.

Not always, but often

Not every company needs a full time DBA. I wouldn’t expect a small business that runs COTS systems with a system administrator to have one. But many companies, and likely every company that develops software based on a database (either in-house or shrinkwrap), should have DBA skills.  Having someone that understands the database, and can guide its use just prevents so many problems in the future.

You might not need a full-time DBA, but you most likely do need those DBA skills if you have a SQL Server running in your data center.

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