Friday, April 30, 2010

On Becoming a DBA

Perhaps the most frequent question I am asked is: How can I become a DBA?

The answer, of course, depends a lot on what you are currently doing. Programmers who have developed applications using a database system are usually best-suited to becoming a DBA. They already know some of the trials and tribulations that can occur when accessing a database.

If you are a programmer and you want to become a DBA, you should ask yourself some hard questions before you pursue that path. First of all, are you willing to work additional, sometimes crazy, hours? Yes, I know that many programmers work more than 40 hours already, but the requirements of the DBA job can push people to their limits. It is not uncommon for DBAs to work late into the evening and on weekends; and you better be ready to handle technical calls at 2:00 a.m. when database applications fail.

Additionally, you need to ask yourself if you are insatiably curious. A good DBA must become a jack-of-all-trades. DBAs are expected to know everything about everything -- at least in terms of how it works with databases. From technical and business jargon to the latest management and technology fads, the DBA is expected to be "in the know." And do not expect any private time: A DBA must be prepared for interruptions at any time to answer any type of question -- and not just about databases, either.

And how are your people skills? The DBA, often respected as a database guru, is just as frequently criticized as a curmudgeon with vast technical knowledge but limited people skills. Just about every database programmer has his or her favorite DBA story. You know, those anecdotes that begin with "I had a problem..." and end with "and then he told me to stop bothering him and read the manual." DBAs simply do not have a "warm and fuzzy" image. However, this perception probably has more to do with the nature and scope of the job than with anything else. The DBMS spans the enterprise, effectively placing the DBA on call for the applications of the entire organization. As such, you will interact with many different people and take on many different roles. To be successful, you will need an easy-going and somewhat amiable manner.

Finally, you should ask yourself how adaptable you are. A day in the life of a DBA is usually quite hectic. The DBA maintains production and test environments, monitors active application development projects, attends strategy and design meetings, selects and evaluates new products and connects legacy systems to the Web. And, of course: Joe in Accounting just resubmitted that query from hell that's bringing the system to a halt. Can you do something about that? All of this can occur within a single workday. You must be able to embrace the chaos to succeed as a DBA.

Of course, you need to be organized and capable of succinct planning, too. Being able to plan for changes and implement new functionality is a key component of database administration. And although this may seem to clash with the need to be flexible and adaptable, it doesn't really. Not once you get used to it.

So, if you want to become a DBA you should already have some experience with the DBMS, be willing to work long and crazy hours, have excellent communication and people skills, be adaptable and excel at organization. If that sounds like fun, you'll probably make a good DBA.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Ever-Changing Role of the DBA

Defining the job of DBA is getting to be increasingly difficult. Oh, most people know the rudimentary aspects of the job, namely keeping your organization's databases and applications running up to par. The DBA has to be the resident DBMS expert (whether that is DB2, Oracle or SQL Server, or most likely a combination of those). He or she has to be able to solve thorny performance problems, ensure backups are taken, recover and restore data when problems occur, make operational changes to database structures and, really, be able to tackle any issue that arises that is data-related.

The technical duties of the DBA are numerous. These duties span the realm of IT disciplines from database design to physical implementation and consistent, on-going monitoring of the database environment.

DBAs must possess the abilities to create, interpret, and communicate a logical data model and to create an efficient physical database design from a logical data model and application specifications. There are many subtle nuances involved that make these tasks more difficult than they sound. And this is only the very beginning. DBAs also need to be able to collect, store, manage, and query data about the data (metadata) in the database and disseminate it to developers that need the information to create effective application systems. This may involve repository management and administration duties, too.

After a physical database has been created from the data model, the DBA must be able to manage that database once it has been implemented. One major aspect of this management involves performance management. A proactive database monitoring approach is essential to ensure efficient database access. The DBA must be able to utilize the monitoring environment, interpret its statistics, and make changes to data structures, SQL, application logic, and the DBMS subsystem to optimize performance. And systems are not static, they can change quite dramatically over time. So the DBA must be able to predict growth based on application and data usage patterns and implement the necessary database changes to accommodate the growth.

And performance management is not just managing the DBMS and the system. The DBA must understand SQL used to access relational databases. Furthermore, the DBA must be able to review SQL and host language programs and to recommend changes for optimization. As databases are implemented with triggers, stored procedures, and user-defined functions, the DBA must be able to design, debug, implement, and maintain these code-based database objects as well.

Additionally, data in the database must be protected from hardware, software, system, and human failures. The ability to implement an appropriate database backup and recovery strategy based on data volatility and application availability requirements is required of DBAs. Backup and recovery is only a portion of the data protection story, though. DBAs must be able to design a database so that only accurate and appropriate data is entered and maintained - this involves creating and managing database constraints in the form of check constraints, rules, triggers, unique constraints, and referential integrity.

DBAs also are required to implement rigorous security schemes for production and test databases to ensure that only authorized users have access to data. As industry and governmental regulations multiply, the need to audit who did what to which data when is also a requirement for sensitive data in production systems – and the DBA must be involved in ensuring data auditability without impacting availability or performance.

And there is more! The DBA must possess knowledge of the rules of relational database management and the implementation of many different DBMS products. Also important is the ability to accurately communicate them to others. This is not a trivial task since each DBMS is different than the other and many organizations have multiple DBMS products (e.g., DB2, Oracle, SQL Server).

Remember, too, that the database does not exist in a vacuum. It must interact with other components of the IT infrastructure. As such, the DBA must be able to integrate database administration requirements and tasks with general systems management requirements and tasks such as network management, production control and scheduling, and problem resolution, to name just a few systems management disciplines. The capabilities of the DBA must extend to the applications that use databases, too. This is particularly important for complex ERP systems that interface differently with the DBMS. The DBA must be able to understand the requirements of the application users and to administer their databases to avoid interruption of business. This includes understanding how any ERP packages impact the business and how the databases used by those packages differ from traditional relational databases.

But Things Are Changing

So at a high level, DBAs are tasked with managing and assuring the integrity and efficiency of database systems. But keep in mind, too, that there are actually many different DBAs. Some focus on logical design; others focus on physical design; some DBAs specialize in building systems and others specialize in maintaining and tuning systems; and there are specialty DBAs and general-purpose DBAs. Truly, the job of DBA encompasses many roles.

Some organizations choose to split DBA responsibilities into separate jobs. Of course, this occurs most frequently in larger organizations, because smaller organizations often cannot afford the luxury of having multiple, specialty DBAs.

Still other companies simply hire DBAs to perform all of the tasks required to design, create, document, tune, and maintain the organization’s data, databases, and database management systems.

But no matter what "type" of DBA you happen to be, chances are that your role is changing and adapting to new types of computing and data requirements. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for DBAs these days is the ongoing redefinition of the job roles and responsibilities.

The primary role of database "custodian," of course, continues to be the main emphasis of the job. But that is no longer sufficient for most organizations. The DBA is expected to take on numerous additional -- mostly technical -- roles. These can include writing application code, managing the application server, enterprise application integration, managing Web services, network administration and more.

If you compare the job description of DBAs across several organizations, it is likely that no two of them would match exactly. This is both good and bad. It is good because it continually challenges the technically-minded employees who tend to become DBAs. But it can be bad, too; because the job differs so much from company to company, it becomes more difficult to replace a DBA who leaves or retires. And no one can deny that database administration is a full-time, stressful job all on its own. But the stress level just keeps increasing as additional duties get tacked onto the DBA's "to do" list.

Summary

There are many jobs that DBAs perform and it can be confusing when you try to match job title up against the responsibilities of the job. Don't let your job title keep you from expanding into other, related disciplines. The more you know and the more you can do, the more employable you become... and that is important in this day and age!

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Nominate Someone for the CA IDUG Award for Outstanding Work in DB2

As many of you know, each year CA sponsors an award at IDUG to honor outstanding work with DB2. The only requirement for the award is that you and your company have used DB2, either on the mainframe or distributed system, in a novel, ground-breaking, or cutting-edge manner.

There is no requirement that an entrant organization be based in North America. There is also no requirement that an entrant organization license or use specific CA or other vendor database management tools or that he/she attend the IDUG conference in person. All nominations will be judged by a panel of independent DB2 consultants in conjunction with CA executives.

Nominations are now open through April 26, 2010. To learn more, visit ca.com/awards/db2.

The winner will be announced at the IDUG North America conference, May 10-14, 2010.

Each winner will receive:

  • One complimentary full IDUG conference pass for any IDUG Europe or IDUG North America conference held prior to December 2011
  • Half-day consulting engagements by each of the consultant judges within 12 months of award presentation
  • Expense reimbursement up to $1,500 either (a) the winner’s travel to an IDUG conference held prior to December 2011 or (b) travel by one of the DB2 consultants for on-site provision of the complimentary consulting services described above
  • Recognition plaque
Submit your project today and get recognized for your outstanding work. Visit ca.com/awards/db2.

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