Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just what is a DBA?

You see him walking briskly towards the IT Director’s office early in the morning, the look of concern deep on his face, he walks by without a glance, without saying hello, without even noticing you.  This is the DBA.  He does this every so often, and since you don’t work directly with him you just think he is rude or self centered.

At times he looks worried, can be snippy or terse and will provide you with a curt answer if interrupted while staring at his screen.  Surely what he is looking at isn’t as important as your problem, you think, all you needed was help getting some numbers for your customer.

Chances are, you see this DBA creature lurking around, looking stressed or carefree.  Rarely in between.  He hangs around with other systems administrators, networking folks and rarely programmers talking about strange and magical things.

Do you know your DBA?  Do you ever wonder what makes them tick, why they are so high strung, and how to better get along with them?  You see, DBAs are told constantly they need to be more open with people, be warm and nice even, and while I agree with this, I think this role is highly misunderstood.  I mean, it is just data, it just kinda sits there doesn’t it?

Chances are, you only have one or two DBA’s in your company, and chances are they are on call 24/7/365.  Even on holidays and vacations, they are tied to their phones, their trusty laptop by their side ready to swoop in at a moments notice.

This series of entries will hopefully shed a little light on this odd creature, the DBA, or Database Administrator.

The DBA is a curious creature, some are nocturnal while others  wake before the sun rises and work mainly during daylight hours.  They seemingly subsist on junk food and caffeine, and by in large prefer the soft glow of monitors and a 60 watt incandescent bulb to the harsh bright florescent tubes in most offices.

They don’t move much, but when they do it is with great purpose and is fairly swiftly.  

DBA’s are accused of being lazy, and the best ones are.  No real DBA wants to do more work than is necessary.

We will start with what a typical DBA is responsible for, and use that to explain the laziness and the seemingly bad manors.  I will list out the areas a common DBA is concerned with, and in a series will break down what it means to you, the ‘user’ and why you really want his focus there.  This list is hardly exhaustive, some DBA’s do more, others do less.  None of these tasks is trivial and all are important

DBA Responsibilities:
1) Shepherd of the Company’s data

  • Granting access to people who need it
  • Denying access to people who don’t need it
  • Protect the data from predators
  • Feed and care for the data

2) Pit Crew of the Company’s data

  • Keep the data fast
  • Keep the data reliable
  • Keep the data free from corruption
  • Move quickly to keep the data always running.
  • Respond to emergencies quickly, professionally and without error

3) Architect and Builder of the Company’s data

  • Design how the data is stored and retrieved
  • Design (along with other infrastructure people) how the data is stored and retrieved
  • Architect systems for both Transaction Processing and Reporting needs

4) Distributor of the data

  • Making sure the data is safely located in more than one place
  • Keeping the data avaliable as much as possible

5) Support structure for users of data

  • Support Developers and their many needs
  • Support all levels of end users of data
  • Support company’s customers in their use of data
  • Provide a shoulder to cry on when data is lost

I know I’ve left out some, leave a comment and tell me what I’ve left out.  I will be growing this over time as I seek to show people just how valuable a resource their DBA is.

I hope to make this a more than 5 part series, but time will tell.


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