Anyone who has ever fished off an ocean charter boat can tell you what a great and exhilarating experience it is. You’re out on the open water, reel in hand, while all your troubles sit packed up back on shore. The best part? The ship’s crew does all the tough, dirty, routine work – driving the boat out to the right spot, maintaining equipment, baiting hooks, running lines, untangling lines and handling the fish once it’s caught. Meanwhile, as the client, you get to do the fun stuff, which essentially amounts to getting the fish on the line, fighting it tooth and nail, reeling it in, and then finally having your picture taken with it afterwards when you get back to shore. Ah, if only the whole world could be like that.
Actually it’s getting there for database administrators (DBAs). Traditionally, DBAs have been responsible not only for the quality, integrity and use of the data itself, but they’ve also been charged with loading and maintaining servers, performing backups, testing system integrity and managing the connectivity and usability of the entire network stack. As a result they spend precious little time fishing for great new insights on how data assets can grow the business. They’ve been too busy changing the reels.
A new model is beginning to emerge that takes much of the drudgery out of the position. This model – outsourcing the management of the data infrastructure – allows DBAs to spend far less time tackling tactical or maintenance-level data management tasks, and more time determining how to use the actual data contained within the information stores for the strategic benefit of the organization. It’s a sea change in thinking that’s helping DBAs raise their profiles within their organizations and add value to their departments, as well as their careers.
Outsource the Tactical
In the early days of ubiquitous computing and up through the late 1990s, owning and operating a sophisticated database was a strategic advantage for an organization. Today though, nearly every competitor possesses some sort of database containing information on customers, suppliers, partners and other internal data. The ability to store data is no longer a strategic advantage in and of itself. The management of the database infrastructure has become much more of a commodity. As a result, the value is not in owning a database but in how you use it and what you get out of it.
Yet even with that, DBAs are still often mired in operational roles that take up the bulk of their time. Among the tasks they perform regularly:
- Installing new DBMS versions and applying vendors’ maintenance fixes.
- Setting and tuning system parameters.
- Turning the operating system, network, and transaction processors.
- Ensuring appropriate storage.
- Troubleshooting, monitoring, and assuring availability/uptime.
- Managing security and authorization.
- Assuring data integrity and managing data formats.
- Overseeing data migrations.
- Selecting and recommending tools.
While these may be necessary and mission-critical tasks, they’re all fairly routine and tactical. So while DBAs are being increasingly called upon to think strategically, their work days are filled with the same old maintenance chores. It’s not an effective combination.
Another change in the landscape has been the increased complexity of the technology. Like everything else in the IT world, the engines behind databases have become more complex and specialized over the past few years. This fact has made it more difficult for internal IT personnel to keep up with the latest changes and best practices, particularly when managing what they already have requires so much of their time.
Even if they do manage to look into new technologies and methodologies, there are still two other hindrances to implementing them: the need for seamless operation on a day-to-day basis and the challenge of updating and training users.
With data being so critical to today’s organizations, the minimum expectation for data availability is five nines – 99.999 percent. Anything below that causes an unacceptable interruption in the operation of the business. Yet rolling out a new technology, particularly if this is a task that’s only performed every few years, can create huge risks for loss of service. It’s difficult to be an expert in something you only do occasionally.
Once the new system is in place and running optimally, it can still be challenging to get users up to speed. Again, that is particularly true if the organization lacks a standing mechanism proven over years of use. This scenario creates a burden on both the DBAs and the help desk – neither of whom needs anything additional put on their plates.
Outsourcing Data Infrastructure Management
Offloading management of the data infrastructure removes those day-to-day burdens from the organization’s internal IT staff. Third-party data infrastructure management organizations are able to focus on the operational side of database administration, rather than having to divide their attention between operations and how the data can (or should) be used. This allows them to manage the operations more closely, maintaining higher availability while reacting more quickly to a disruption in service levels.
Once free of the burden of infrastructure management, DBAs can place their focus on something that has higher value to the organization as well as their careers – turning the data into information that helps move the sales needle.
Organizations today don’t lack for data. If anything, they may have too much of it stored in a multitude of databases around the enterprise. Where they’re challenged is in determining which of this data is most important to the business and figuring out how to extract it in a way that’s usable and applicable to the business strategy. This is where the opportunities lie for DBAs.
Applications such as business intelligence and predictive analytics hold tremendous promise for organizations. So far, however, these applications have been under-used for the most part, often due to a lack of understanding of their inner workings.
By digging deeper into these applications, DBAs have a chance to take on a more strategic role within the organization. Rather than twiddling the bits, they can be:
- Pooling and parsing the data to show patterns and trends that help the organization make critical decisions on topics ranging from raw materials purchases to inventory/supply chain management to marketing and sales.
- Developing reports that provide new insights into how enterprise resources are being allocated, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
- Creating dashboards that monitor the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, or even minute-by-minute status of the organization’s key performance indicators.
- Helping determine which partners are really the 80 and which are the 20 in the 80/20 relationship rule.
Showing the return on investment of various current activities, or run multiple “what-if” scenarios to help determine future direction.
In short, they can be involved in business-level decisions in a way they never have before, raising their personal stock within the company while helping raise the organization’s actual stock price as well.
Time to Fish or Cut Bait
Managing the data infrastructure internally is not only an unnecessary, time-consuming burden; it’s the kind of task-oriented job that can stall a career. After all, it’s difficult to land a marlin if you’re spending so much time oiling reels and untangling lines that you never throw a hook in the water. DBAs can advance both their companies and their careers by turning over the tedious drudgery of data infrastructure management to a specialized outside service organization.