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Don Burleson Blog 







What's the value of a professional DBA?

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonMarch 25,  2015

A Reader writes:

What's the value of a professional DBA? 

I'm the Sr. DBA for a software development firm that deploys ERP applications on Oracle databases for companies across the country.  Even though I've only been here a couple of years, I've been working with Oracle databases for over 12 years, and I'm dismayed that my company is using cheap foreigners who don't even understands English, much less the fundamentals of good Oracle database management.

How do I convince my management that we're sliding down a slippery slope by using cheap DBA and that it won't be too long until we get frantic calls from people with systems down due to poor maintenance?  Management doesn't understand the complexities of database administration and I feel like my years of experience and knowledge are discounted by them requesting me to manage a team of semi-literate offshore DBA's.

For the past year, I've been raising the issue and begging for them to hire qualified DBAs or contract with a reputable DBA support firm such as yours with very little success.

You wouldn't buy a Formula One race car and let anyone work on it, but these companies think that any shade tree mechanic would do.  If you have any advice at all or resources I could use to promote them hiring or having a qualified DBA available, I would love to hear it. 

And we answered:

In these recessionary times, it's tempting to cut corners and replace well-trained (and well compensated) DBA's with cheap foreign pretenders. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish behavior, sure to cause issues in the future.  You are also correct that Oracle customers are not aware of the inherent complexities of Oracle that make it the world's most robust and flexible data platform.

Penny wise and pound foolish:

You get what you pay for.  If you want a DBA with an MBA and good technical experience, it can easily cost over $100,000 per year.  Read these notes on the complex infrastructure required for corporate database management.

In the hands of a competent expert, Oracle gives a level of control over that data that is unprecedented, and a good DBA can control every aspect of their mission-critical database.  In the hands of an inept of reckless beginner, Oracle's powerful features become a weapon of destruction.

Untrained and inexperienced Oracle DBA's are the bane of corporate America. Oracle Corporation white papers suggest that more than 75% of all Oracle database outages are attributable to human error. By hiring the services of recognized Oracle Remote DBA experts, you can avoid the potential downtime associated with human error.

Is my DBA staff good enough?

So how can you tell if a company has a qualified DBA staff?  Guidelines for Oracle DBA best practices include many factors, both organizational and  financial:

  • DBA Budget - Businesses that spend less than 15% of net income on Information Systems activities is likely undercapitalized.  During tough times, the last place to cut-corners is on the manager of your mission-critical data.  Many companies revenue streams are tied directly to the availability of their data.

  • DBA Quality - The DBA is the chief proprietor of the corporate information, a mission-critical job that is often at the same level as a vice president.  The primary DBA often has a graduate degree in business administration and computer science, an essential melding of diverse skills that ensures that the DBA can work with all business functional areas on their data needs.  See my notes on the qualities of a competent DBA.

At the end of the day, the amount spent on Information Technology activities is directly proportional to the value of the data.  If the data is worth protecting, then the cost of the DBA is a small price to pay. 


The perception of the quality of a DBA is also related to the changing economics in the market.  In the early 1980's the $40,000 DBA salary was a very tiny part of a ten million dollar mainframe budget.  In the early 21st century, the $100,000 DBA salary is a much larger chunk of a two million dollar system.  As the costs of hardware falls, the relative costs of human resources appear larger, and make a tempting target for the reckless manager, bent on saving money at the expense of putting their company data at-risk.

Are you willing to accept this risk?

When you use an unqualified DBA you not only put the quality and availability of your data at-risk, but you face even larger exposures:

  • Data Disclosure - I've fixed databases where a dishonest DBA placed a daemon to extract the Oracle data each day and e-mail it to China!  A cheap DBA can cost you more than your data, it can put you out of business.

  • Data Losses - A simple disk crash could cost you thousands of dollars in lost data and reduce morale.  I've been in shops where a botched recovery made an entire department do-over an entire weeks work!

  • Unplanned downtime - Some companies measure their downtime costs in hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute, and an inexperienced DBA can cause millions of dollars in downtime.

  • Corruption - As systems become more complex, an inept DBA can easily introduce data corruption into the database, causing permanent and irreversible data mangling.

Many companies will cease existence without their database, and the cost of data loss factors directly into the decision to use well-qualified DBA professionals.


Unfortunately, it's only after a major catastrophe that miserly companies recognize the importance of having a properly-qualified DBA staff.

When choosing a DBA, experience trumps all else, but it's the nature of the experience that matters most:

  • Real-world experience - The path to true Oracle expertise is paved with working on real-world, mission-critical Oracle databases.  No amount of at-home experimentation can compare with the learning from working on a real production database.  Many aspiring Oracle experts will work for free for non-profit charities in order to get this experience.

  • Quality experience - There is a wide variation in the quality of experience in the Oracle workplace.  Not all experience is created equal, and a challenging high-performance database job will provide far more expertise exposure than baby-sitting a stable database.

  • Broad experience - A broad base with many different types of Oracle database is essential for developing expert status.  I've been in shops with over 20 DBA's, where job duties are highly segmented and Oracle professionals are relegated to "niche" work, like security administration, or full-time patch application.  On the other hand, a single DBA is more likely to get a broader range of experience.  The best place to get experience is as an Oracle consultant where you are exposed to dozens of novel databases each year.  A well-rounded Oracle DBA will have experience in many areas including OLTP, OLAP and batch databases.

There remains a two-tiered market for Oracle professionals, the traditional DBA role of data proprietor, and a secondary market for Oracle "baby-sitters", neophytes with only a modicum of training and experience.


Ensuring that your data is secure can put your whole company out of business, and if they are lucky they will find-out the need for qualified experts before a data loss puts then pout of business.



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