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Why DBAs Must Be Jacks-of-All-Trades

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The position of Database Administrator is at the center of most business processes today. It's also one of the most difficult positions to fill. Get the skinny on DBA tasks and challenges right here.
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Every organization using a database management system (DBMS) to manage data requires a database administration group to ensure the effective use and deployment of the company's databases. Since most modern organizations of any size use a DBMS, the need for a database administrator (DBA) is greater today than ever before. However, the discipline of database administration is neither well understood nor universally practiced in a coherent and easily replicated manner.

The DBA: Revered or Reviled?

An oft-repeated story about database administration underscores both the necessity for database administration and the lack of understanding of a DBA's function. It goes something like this:

The CIO of Acme Corporation hires a management consulting company to streamline their information technology (IT) operations. The consultant, determined to understand the way Acme works, begins by interviewing the CIO. One of his first questions is: "So, I see that you have a DBA on staff. What does he do?"

The CIO replies, "Well, I'm told that we need the DBA to make sure our Oracle databases stay online. I know that some of our critical business processes like order entry and inventory use Oracle, but I really don't know what the DBA does. But please don't tell me I need another one, because we can barely afford to pay the one we have!"

This is a sad but too often true commentary on the state of database administration in many organizations. DBMS software is so complex these days that very few people understand more than just the basics (like SQL). However, DBAs understand the complexities of the DBMS, making them a valuable resource. Indeed, sometimes the only source of database management and development knowledge within the organization is the DBA.

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.

The truth is, many database problems require periods of quiet reflection and analysis for the DBA to resolve. Therefore, DBAs generally do not like to be disturbed. However, due to the vast knowledge most DBAs possess (the guru, again), their quiet time is usually less than quiet; constant interruptions to answer questions and solve problems is a daily fact of life.

DBAs, more than most, need to acquire exceptional communication skills. Data is the lifeblood of computerized applications. Application programs are developed to read and write data, analyze data, move data, perform calculations using data, modify data, and so on. Without data, there would be nothing for the programs to do. The DBA is at the center of the development life cycle—ensuring that application programs have efficient, accurate access to the corporation's data. As such, DBAs frequently interface with many different types of people: technicians, programmers, end users, customers, and executives. However, many DBAs are so caught up in the minutiae of the inner workings of the DBMS that they never develop the skills required to relate appropriately to their coworkers and customers.

However, we have not yet answered the question: What is a DBA? The short answer is simple: A DBA is the information technician responsible for ensuring the ongoing operational functionality and efficiency of an organization's databases and the applications that access those databases.

The long answer to that question requires a book to answer—this book. This text will define the management discipline of database administration and provide practical guidelines for the proper implementation of the DBA function.

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