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Why Learn Database Administration?

Data is at the center of today's applications; today's organizations simply cannot operate without data. In many ways, business today is data. Without data, businesses would not have the ability to manage finances, conduct transactions, or contact their customers. Databases are created to store and organize this data. The better the design and utility of the database, the better the organization will be positioned to compete for business.

Indeed, one of the largest problems faced by IT organizations is ensuring quality database administration. A survey of IT managers conducted by Information Week in December 2000 showed that the top two database management execution issues faced by companies are ease of administration and availability of qualified administrators.

Both of these issues were cited by 58% of survey respondents. Additionally, the 1999 Market Compensation Survey conducted by people3, a Gartner Company, shows that DBA positions take longer to fill than any other position. Clearly, there is no lack of demand for DBA skills in today's job market.

A Unique Vantage Point

The DBA is responsible for designing and maintaining an enterprise's databases, placing the DBA squarely at the center of the business. The DBA has the opportunity to learn about many facets of business and how they interrelate. The DBA can explore groundbreaking technologies as they are adopted by the organization. Exposure to new technology keeps the job stimulating—but frustrating if you are trying to figure out how a new technology works for the first time. The DBA is often working alone in these endeavors; he does not have access to additional expertise to assist when troubles arise. Therefore, a good DBA needs to enjoy challenges and be a good problem solver.

DBA Salaries

You can find no more challenging job in IT than database administration. Fortunately, DBAs are well paid. DICE.com, a career planning and research Web site, provides valuable statistics on DBA compensation. For example, database administration is one of the top ten contract jobs when ranked by salary, as well as one of the top ten jobs for full-time employment. The mean compensation for DBA consultants is $81 per hour; the mean level of experience just 4.98 years. For full-time employees with four or more years of experience, the mean salary ranges from the low $60,000s to over $80,000. Figure 1-1 shows the mean salary for full-time DBAs broken down by years of experience.

Figure 1-1Figure 1-1 Mean salary for full-time DBAs (Dice.com 2000 IT Rate Survey)

Another Web site, searchdatabase.com, a portal of database information for IT professionals, conducted a salary survey of database professionals. As of late January 2001, the average annual salary for all database professionals was more than $62,000. As might be expected, as the years of experience and the number of people managed increases, so does the salary. Of course, DBA salaries, as with all salaries, vary by region of the country. In the United States, DBA salaries are usually higher in the Northeast and on the West Coast than in other regions.

So, DBAs are well paid, have challenging jobs, and are likely to be engaged in the most visible and important projects. What's not to like? Well, DBAs are expected to know everything, not just about database technologies, but about anything remotely connected to them. Database administration is a nonstop job, and DBAs work long days with lots of overtime, especially when performance is suffering or development projects are behind schedule. DBAs frequently have to work on weekends and holidays to maintain databases during off-peak hours. A DBA must be constantly available to deal with problems, because database applications run around the clock. Most DBAs carry pagers or cell phones so they can be reached at any time. If there is a database problem at 2:00 A.M., the DBA must get out of bed, clear his head, and solve the problem to get the applications back up and running. Failure to do so can result in database downtime, and that can completely shut down business processes. DBAs frequently spend weekends in front of the computer performing database maintenance and reorganizations during off peak hours. You can't bring mission-critical databases down during the nine-to-five day to maintain them. According to industry analysts at the META Group, the average DBA works more than fifty hours per week, including an average of six hours on weekends.

So, database administration is technically challenging and rewarding; it can also be exhausting and frustrating. But don't let that scare you. The positive aspects of the job far outweigh the negative.

Database Technology

This book assumes a basic knowledge of relational database technology and DBMS fundamentals. For readers needing to review these concepts, please refer to Appendix 1. This is not a trivial matter; people sometimes think they know more than they actually do. For example, what is a database? I'll bet most readers believe they know the answer to that question. However, some (perhaps many) of you would be wrong. Oracle is not a database; it is a database management system. You can use Oracle to create a database, but Oracle, in and of itself, is not a database.

So, what is a database? A database is an organized store of data wherein the data is accessible by named data elements (for example, fields, records, and files). And what is a database management system? A DBMS is software that enables end users or application programmers to share and manage data. It provides a systematic method of creating, updating, retrieving, and storing information in a database. A DBMS is also generally responsible for data integrity, data security, data access control and optimization, automated rollback, restart, and recovery. Figure 1-2 shows the relationship between a DBMS and a database.

Figure 1-2Figure 1-2 Relationship of DBMS to database

You might think of a database as a file folder, and a DBMS as the file cabinet holding the labeled folders. You implement and access database instances using the capabilities of the DBMS. Your payroll application uses the payroll database, which may be implemented using a DBMS such as DB2, Oracle9i, or SQL Server.

Why is this important? If we don't use precise terms in the workplace, confusion can result. And confusion leads to over-budget projects, improperly developed systems, and lost productivity.

In addition to database management fundamentals, DBAs must be experts in the specific DBMS in use, and there may be many in the organization. For example, a large organization might use DB2 on the mainframe, Oracle and Informix on several different UNIX platforms, and SQL Server on Windows 2000. Older legacy systems might use IMS databases, and then there is that one crazy application out there that uses a fringe DBMS like Adabas or Ingres1

The DBA group, therefore, must have expertise in each of these different management systems and platforms. Furthermore, the DBA must be capable of determining which DBMS and platform is best suited to the needs of each application. This can be a difficult job fraught with politics and conflicting opinions. The DBA group must be able to act impartially and implement decisions based on the best fit of application, DBMS, and platform.

Once again, for a short introduction to DBMS concepts, refer to Appendix 1.

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