Understanding the DBA job description: Database administrator's roles and responsibilities

Confusion over the DBA's job description and their role in business often results in misusing their DBA job skills.

There are too few businesses today that really understand the role of database administrators (DBAs), and the essential role they play in managing the overall enterprise infrastructure. As a direct result, many companies become consumed with daily issues instead of completing critical business initiatives.

Why is this?

Because each business environment is different, with varying requirements based upon a company's usage of the data contained within a particular database technology. Consequently, a DBA's job description varies from organization to organization based upon its infrastructure. Many organizations consider the role of the DBA to be someone who baby sits or monitors a database from an infrastructure operations perspective, to watch if it is up or down. That may have been the case five years ago, but today's database administration job duties go far beyond traditional operations monitoring and reporting. They also include database performance analysis, corrective action, proactive tuning, maintenance, administration and backup and recovery across the entire database application infrastructure. DBAs can no longer effectively perform their duties in a silo away from other network, system and application administrators.

For more information on DBA job descriptions

Read a chapter excerpt about DBA job descriptions and staffing considerations

Get best practices for improved database management

Learn the difference between RDBMS vs. DBMS

What is the DBA's job description -- What does a DBA do?

One HR job description may define it as: "Administers and controls organization data resources. Uses repeatable practices to ensure data availability, integrity and security, recover corrupted data and eliminate data redundancy, and leverages database tools to improve database performance and efficiency." Is this the definitive function of a DBA?

Oddly enough, no; the role of a DBA differs from organization to organization. For example, in a smaller company capacity, the duties of a DBA seem to be much broader than those defined and specialized within a Fortune 100 corporation. In the centralized mainframe environment, a typical day of a DBA may consist of working with several analysts supporting a single operating system and a couple programmers who support the transaction processing applications. Contrast that to a distributed environment, where the role of the DBA is expanded by a variety of different operating systems, hardware types, applications and application servers combined with a greater number and diversity of customers.

There is one clear commonality; to be successful in either environment requires the ability to support new business processes and applications for the future.

The value the DBA adds

The leading challenge organizations face today in their infrastructure management is getting past the reactive fire fighting. The majority of DBAs are not getting a chance to really add business value because they are bogged down with daily operational issues; many of which can be automated and prevented. Contrast that to DBAs who have one-third of their time set aside for research and education, who understand the business and how to apply new database technology advancements that ultimately enable new shareholder value.

Since the inception of the RDBMS, significant technological improvements have been made in processing power, storage and network architectures. New servers can now handle data processing loads that were unheard of a few years ago. Coupled with the hardware technology change, there has also been a revolution in applications with technologies like Java. Database administration in general has been expanding since the days of using a database solely as a repository for data. As we speak, database vendors are implementing even more infrastructure functionality to support Internet e-business and e-commerce, and it is the DBA who is needed to research, determine and manage what can help the business.

So while it may be true that a database can better care for itself, there are now a variety of new infrastructure dependencies that must be managed, and it is the DBA who is needed to metamorphose to keep ahead of resolving the new database-driven application complexities. It is the DBA who is always summoned when the help desk gets that call from the user, "The application seems to be running slow." How prepared is your organization to repond to such a call quickly?

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