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