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The Strategic Importance of Database Administration

If you draw a diagram of information flow and interaction amongst teams and processes in IT, you’ll probably find that although some parts of the organization are “leaf” or “edge” nodes, the people who manage the data are not. The DBAs would usually be one of the circles in the center of information flow and not a leaf or an edge node. DBAs also occupy a central position in the continuum of skills: • On one hand, they have to understand a lot about how the application code works, because application developers are their customers. • On the other hand, they need to understand how the application runs in production, because operations staff are also their customers. DBAs end up knowing a lot about everything, and because they can develop this all-encompassing set of skills and knowledge, the organization relies on them to do so. Consider the old adage, “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” That applies well to DBAs. Meanwhile, developers and operations staff usually don’t experience this as much, because their knowledge sits against one edge of the continuum from Dev to Ops. At the edges, there’s a natural position of rest and withdrawal from “someone else’s job,” but in the center, there’s a tendency to become spread too thin, being drawn to fill that vacuum. It is vitally important to provide active back pressure against this tendency to enlarge the scope of the DBA’s job. Not to contain, limit, or constrain the DBA per se. In fact, a strategic manager needs to do quite the opposite: enlarge the scope of the Dev and Ops staff’s jobs, so they actually assume more database administration duties themselves. You can enjoy multiple benefits as a result:
  1. Better shared understanding of the vital data systems.
  2. Empathy and improved communication across teams.
  3. More focus and specificity for the DBA’s role and responsibilities.
What happens if instead of doing this, you try to manage down cost, resources, and involvement in your DBA team and data management function? You make your central bottlenecks worse for everyone, but because you’re starving that function while other functions depend on it, the problems will manifest at a distance. That is why the DBA team’s support for development and operations is so strategic. It’s a vital role in overall data competency for the organization. If you don’t manage it carefully, you’ll potentially bottleneck and stall your entire IT organization. We will close with a quote from Percona’s founder and CEO, Peter Zaitsev:
Too often customers do not even give their developers access to support, even though these developers are critical in realizing the full value of their application… developers often have to resort to Google to find an answer—and often end up with inapplicable, outdated or simply wrong information. Combined with this, they often apply or resort to time-consuming trial and error.
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