DBA Challenges Compounded by COVID-19

Bob Potter

Published On: March 23, 2020

Categories: Community, Reflection 0

In the best of times, the role of the database administrator (DBA) is not well understood—not just by the business but also by IT management. The DBA wears many hats—they perform database design, capacity planning, performance tuning and monitoring, troubleshooting, security duties, and maybe even database cloud migration.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) just made all of these responsibilities increasingly more challenging and unpredictable for DBAs.  At first, I thought to myself, “This must be really bad for DBAs who work in industries like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and government (particularly the CDC).” But it’s also bad for industries like airlines, hospitality, and leisure who are seeing declining demand but whose systems are under siege. I experienced this for myself when I went to an airline website the other day to cancel my flight and got a message to “come back later” due to system overload.

Whether you're a DBA in one of these industries or not, you may find yourself experiencing some of these challenges today...

Wider Scope of Responsibility

Twenty years ago, DBAs could focus on production support, but now they’re expected to be DevOps DBAs in addition to operational DBAs. They need to know both SQL and programming languages like C#. Software developers use whatever database management system they favorlike MongoDB and MySQLand expect the DBA to understand them because if DB or SQL is in the name, then the DBA must understand them.

That’s like saying you’re European so you must understand German and French. These database systems are much less manageable and optimizable than systems like SQL Server and Oracle.

Pressure To Do More With Less

Far and away, the biggest challenge for the DBA is the massive pressure to cut costs and the mandate that they must support a greater number of production databases.

This challenge is not a trivial thing—these mission-critical databases are the backbone of businesses in almost any industry. In some industries, like healthcare, the database system performance is a life or death situation—yet IT is expected to do more with less. Many DBAs work after hours and on weekends already. When there is an outage or a slow-down, they need to be available on-demand to monitor, diagnose, and fix the problem. After all, industry studies have shown that it costs, on average, about $700,000 per hour for a large company to be down and $220,000 for a small company to be down. ~70% of all system failures are attributed to the database.

Industry studies have shown that it costs, on average, about $700,000 per hour for a large company to be down and $220,000 for a small company to be down. ~70% of all system failures are attributed to the database.

Now layer on top of that the current disruption and total dislocation of businesses worldwide due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). DBAs have a highly collaborative job. They interact with developers—typically in daily stand-up meetings—trying to understand queries, indexes, and application updates. They interact with business users, typically trying to understand demand peaks, capacity needs, and performance requirements. Suddenly they have to do all of this from home under epic performance workloads without the in-person collaboration.

DBAs Can Adapt With The Right Vendors

COVID-19 could make the life of the DBA go from bad to worse. Just when they need more servers, more resources, and better tooling, budgets are being scrutinized even closer by finance. They are more dependent than ever on their vendors—companies that provide the database software, the database performance monitoring software itself, and service organizations that provide hosting, expertise, and staff.

These partners will either strengthen their business relationship with the DBA, or they’ll get replaced. DBAs are in crisis learning mode. Right now, they're learning to do more with less and doing it in virtual mode by sorting through data patterns, dashboards, and reports. They’re trying to keep systems running smoothly while the business reacts and responds to the changing demands brought on by the crisis.

Life will return to normal eventually, and maybe autonomous databases that fix themselves will become a reality one day too. Until then—and for the long term—take time to understand and appreciate your DBAs and the work they're doing. They're powering your business in more ways than you know.

As CEO, Bob is focused on accelerated global growth for SentryOne, both organically and through acquisitions. Here he provides valuable updates on key company milestones and future strategic priorities. Check back often to read Bob's insights that offer a glimpse of SentryOne beyond the technology.