A Skills Roadmap for DBAs in the Cloud Era

By Gerardo Dada, Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, SolarWinds

Cloud computing is on the move. Slowly but surely, businesses are transitioning more and more key pieces of infrastructure to the cloud in order to take advantage of cost, flexibility and agility benefits. And databases, the heart and soul of all applications, are the most critical component of this transition.

Today, the cloud is delivering its promise for databases. In fact, technology research firm TechNavio predicts a 62 percent annual aggregate growth rate for the global cloud-based database market through 2018. As this database migration to the cloud occurs, some organizations have already discovered—and many more will learn—that the cloud doesn’t necessarily equate to simplicity, and it certainly doesn’t mean the role of database administrator (DBA) has become any less important. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

In the age of the cloud, where a focus on overall system performance and shared accountability between developers, DBAs and operation teams is the name of the game, the DBA plays an absolutely essential role in the uptime, performance and availability of applications and data. The challenge is that the cloud, for all its benefits, also introduces new complexities that DBAs may need new or better refined skills to manage.

Specifically, to succeed in the cloud era, DBAs need to acquire or sharpen their skills in and around vendor management, disaster recovery and replication, security management and performance monitoring.

Vendor (Cloud Service Provider) Management

By its very nature, databases in the cloud means a third-party cloud service provider is involved, and that service provider and the relationship with them needs to be managed. In most cases, that will fall on a company’s DBAs. Thus, it’s imperative that DBAs get in the habit of taking extra time to understand their service providers, staying on top of new services and capabilities, understanding the specific details in their SLAs, reviewing their recommended architectures and being very aware of scheduled maintenance that may impact them. The cloud is a partnership where the DBA and the service provider need to be in complete synchronization.

As part of this skill, DBAs also need to become comfortable with analyzing cost structures and budget management. It’s easy to get started in the cloud, but that simplicity can quickly lead to an expensive habit. DBAs should seek to understand all the elements that make up the cost of running their database in the cloud—such as instance class, running time, primary and backup storage, I/O requests per month and data transfer—and their growth expectations over time. Doing so can help avoid overprovisioning and utilize cloud resources more efficiently.

Disaster Recovery and Replication

In the cloud era, disaster recovery and replication become an even more important skill. It’s more important than ever to think through, plan and manage requirements needed to ensure they don’t lose important data in the event of a vendor failure or outage. The first and most basic step is to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket by keeping a copy of their data with a different vendor who is in a different geographic location, so it’s safe and can easily be recovered in case of a catastrophe.

However, it goes deeper than that. DBAs will need to be more aware of what the business needs when it comes to disaster recovery. DBAs will need to ask what disaster recovery requirements are important to the business and for each specific database workload. They will need to understand what the key restore points are, the restore times for workloads based on the sensitivity of the data, transition times to the recovery site and how much data is acceptable to move.

Security Management

While reputable cloud service providers typically provide reasonably secure systems, DBAs still need to be very active in the security of their data. This begins by having a very clear understanding of the security risks that must be protected against, the corporate security regulations that need to be followed and the compliance certifications that must be achieved, all on a workload-by-workload basis. They must remember that encryption is only the tip of the iceberg. There are considerations such as which keys will be used, who will have access to them, what algorithm will be used to do the encryption, how data will be protected at rest and in transit as well as in backups. Also, they must know who will monitor database access for malicious or unauthorized access, remembering that most security threats come from inside.

Then they must work with the cloud service provider to jointly build a plan to meet the requirements and special considerations for each workload. And last, plan for the worst and have a documented course of action in case a security breach does occur. With this depth of understanding of, involvement in and preparation for the security of databases in the cloud, DBAs can ensure their company data is safe.

Performance Monitoring

If it is important to monitor and optimize on-premises database deployments, it’s even more important in the cloud given its dynamic nature. In the cloud, performance, resource provisioning and costs go hand in hand. Bad performance can result in over provisioning, which can result in large incremental costs.

The best database performance optimization tools focus on advanced wait-time analytics and resource correlation to pinpoint the causes for bottlenecks, speed database operations significantly and lower costs. These tools can also issue alerts based on baseline performance to identify issues before they become big problems. DBAs, developers and operations teams can benefit from a shared view of the performance of production cloud-based systems that allows them to see the impact of their code and pinpoint the root cause of whatever could be slowing down the database, whether it’s queries, resource contentions, storage systems, blockers, etc.

Conclusion: Becoming the Future-Minded DBA

Ten years from now the lines between what is and isn’t the cloud will become even more blurred. And with the increase of cloud models available on the market, DBAs are going to need to make informed decisions about not only what works best for their workloads, but what works best for their entire organization. It starts now by better understanding the cloud and what it takes to make databases in the cloud perform their best, including the skills discussed here: vendor management, disaster recovery, replication, security management and performance monitoring.

About the Author

Gerardo DadaGerardo Dada is Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy for SolarWinds’ database and applications business globally. Dada is a technologist who has been at the center of the Web, mobile, social and cloud revolutions at companies such as Rackspace, Microsoft, Motorola, Vignette and Bazaarvoice. He has been involved with many database technologies, from dBase to BTrieve to SQL Server and NoSQL to DBaaS in the cloud.  He is currently Vice President, Database Group at  SolarWinds.

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