Will the Cloud Eat My DBA Job? (Dear SQL DBA Episode 31)

Will cloud services render DBAs obsolete? Does the cloud mean that developers will use less of SQL Server? In this post I talk about the future of database administration and give tips on strategizing your career.

Watch this week’s 28 minute episode, or scroll down to read a written version of the answer. Us YouTubers love it when you subscribe to our YouTube channels. You can also get this by podcast (and I would love it if you left a review on iTunes).

Dear SQL DBA…

I moved into the role of DBA about a year ago and still have a lot to learn, however I’m worried…

  • Cloud adoption may move more and more companies away from SQL Server (due to cost, for instance)
  • As the transition to the cloud becomes more commonplace the DBA job will become a service included in that offering

I responded with a few questions of my own:

  1. What made you decide to be a SQL Server DBA, specifically?
  2. What do you like about being a DBA? What parts of your job do you wish you could do all the time?
  3. Are you curious about cloud technologies at all? Or do they seem uninteresting to you?

We’re talking about career strategy here. It’s important to reflect a little on how you got to the point you’re at now, and what you enjoy doing and what you’re interested in in this context.

We’ll get back to how those questions were answered soon.

Lots of things have been reported to kill the DBA over the years

SQL Server 2005 was said to be “self-tuning”! Who needs a DBA when the instance tunes itself? (Apparently everyone.)

Outsourcing: All the DBA jobs are going to X location, then Y location, then Z location. Then back to X. DBA jobs have become more global, but “outsourcing” hasn’t gotten rid of DBA jobs in the United States. It has been part of the trend to make working remotely more normal and easy, which is generally good for DBAs.

DevOps! All the developers will manage everything. And somehow know to do so.  I love Dev Ops, and I have seen it wipe out some QA departments, but I haven’t seen it wipe out DBAs. I think it’s fun to be a DBA working with a Dev Ops team.

One job is going away… slowly

“Old School Databass Administrator”

Duties:

  • Installs SQL Server
  • Sets up and monitors jobs for backups, CHECKDB, and index maintenance
  • Manages user permissions
  • Stays in cube, silently

I don’t think the cloud specifically is killing off this role. IT teams are being demanded to communicate better, pay more attention to their customers, be more dynamic and specialized.

Who’s a DBA’s #1 customer?

Developers wanna develop

The cloud enables developers to use a lot of technologies.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean less SQL Server will be used.

The cloud is also bringing new ways for SQL Server to be cost effective – like elastic pools.

Developers have a massive challenge: there’s an incredible amount for them to learn.

Microsoft has been changing

It’s not just cloud — it’s things like SQL Server on Linux in vNext of SQL Server.

Yeah, you can spin up a Linux VM in the cloud and run SQL Server on it. But you can also do it on prem. Or in a container. You can do it anywhere. That’s really cool.

Microsoft is also embracing lots of technology in their cloud. You can bring data from multiple data sources together– including SQL Server.

Don’t get threatened by the fact that it’s not all SQL Server. If customers can do more and build more, and if there’s many ways to include SQL Server in that, it’s going to get used. It has tons of cool features for performance, and it’s a proven relational database with a really solid foundation.

Developers are still gonna need help

  • “This looks weird, what’s happening in the database?”
  • “Why is this slow?”
  • “What can we do to make queries faster without changing the code?”
  • “Is there a way to do this more cheaply?”

And also…

  • “Can we roll our own solution?”

The complexity developers face is only expanding. For those teams who choose SQL Server, there’s plenty of need for specialists.

Business owners will still need help

They have their own questions:

  • “What are the developers not seeing?”
  • “Are we meeting our SLAs, RPOs, RTOs and other acronyms?”
  • “Is our data secure?”

And also…

  • “Should we be in the cloud, or running our own?”

Remember how once upon a time, virtualization was going to completely take over everything? It definitely did become very common, but there were still plenty of companies who kept their SQL Servers using physical hardware for performance reasons. There are plenty of others who virtualized, then reverted to physical as well. And now there’s a trend toward the new hotness of containers.

As the options increase, the need for a SQL Server DBA who’s aware of the pros and cons of each just goes up.

DBA Specializations

Sysadmin / Platform

  • Scripting and managing large private implementations
  • High Availability and Disaster Recovery
  • Storage specializations

Performance tuning / architecture

  • Performance tuning critical workloads
  • Specialized code design patterns for high transaction workloads
  • Index tuning and new technologies

Cloud is a part of both of these. Many companies will use the cloud for failover. Many will come to use it primarily. Even then, which cloud do you use? Which way do you deploy to best suit your cost requirements and service level agreements? How do you manage it as it evolves?

Operations can be its own specialization

I used to work with two men who came from the “punch-card” days. When I met them they ran operations for a set of proprietary Hadoop-like clusters for a dot com. They were doing NOSQL before I ever heard it called NOSQL.

They were really good at operations. They adapted to new things to manage, and they did it very well.

That made me realize that as long as I’m good at solving a problem for a business with technology, I’m going to be able to find a job. I just need to keep adapting as the technology evolves.

Business intelligence is another example

The rise of self-serve data sounded like it was going to put BI folks out of business at the beginning.

After all, PowerPivot used “The Engine of the Devil!”

Who needs to build cubes anymore if people can just do everything they need in an Excel spreadsheet that references the cloud?

This customer wants their BI team more than ever

BI consultants now

I don’t work in Business Intelligence, but people seem to be really productive, happy, and active in that field.

More options on how to get things done resulted in more work, and more demand for interesting data to work with from business users. People want to figure out how to make their data meaningful in new ways.

What if you’re just starting out?

If you are…

  • Fresh in the industry, no experience
  • Someone who loves working with data

Should you focus on just Microsoft SQL Server?

Well, no, but that has nothing to do with SQL Server, or even the cloud specifically. Don’t settle down too fast. Why marry one technology before even getting to know others?

If you’re in this position, it’s an amazing time to experiment with all the technologies out there. This definitely includes cloud technology, but give yourself freedom to explore and try as many new things as you can get your hands on.

Our questioner isn’t in that position

Here’s how they answered my questions…

1.What made you decide to be a SQL Server DBA?

  • Accidental DBA, support background

2.What do you like about being a DBA?

  • Inner workings of SQL Server, flagship technologies. (NOT writing reports.)

3.Are you curious about cloud technologies?

  • Yes

The cloud is part of your job security

Get to know different options to deploy SQL Server to the cloud.

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses / limitations

Ask questions around these areas…

  • Monitoring
  • HA/DR
  • How to support it / what maintenance is required

Cloud is a great reason to get to go to conferences! You need to provide the curiosity and justification for attending the training. Ask, and keep asking. When you do get to go to training, take the initiative to schedule time and share what you learned with your team. (It really helps when it comes time to ask to go again.)

Will the robots take my job?

Robots may take EVERYONE’s job. I can’t change that.

However, I think as database people, we’re probably near the end of the list of jobs that will be replaced by Skynet. The robots need us to serve them until they are fully self-sustaining, and no longer need humans at all.

But for the foreseeable future, there’s tons of work for data professionals to answer the question…

“How do we get the most out of all this stuff?”

My #1 advice: Look for problems you want to solve at work, and go after them

Don’t get stuck on a job title. I did this at one point in my career, and it was a huge mistake. The job title “DBA” may disappear, or you might find you like a job with a different title.

That’s fine. It’s not like “administrator” is a sexy term.

You get one life. You may as well get to solve problems that you enjoy while you work. That’s way more important than how the HR department tries to classify you.

Got a question for Dear SQL DBA?

Ask away at LittleKendra.com/dearsqldba!

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14 Responses to Will the Cloud Eat My DBA Job? (Dear SQL DBA Episode 31)

  1. Koen Verbeeck February 23, 2017 at 7:34 am #

    Spot on for BI professionals.
    Working in BI is even more exciting than 10 years ago (when you only had the SSIS/SSAS/SSRS Trinity).
    We now have Power BI, Advanced Analytics, BI in the cloud …

    Typically I have seen that not a lot of people in a company are capable of doing pure self-service BI. All the other users still need either traditional BI or need a form of more managed self-service BI. And don’t forget, infrastructure needs to be set-up, security needs to be implemented, models needs to be created, users need to be trained. There’s always work to do 🙂

  2. Nishad Jadhav February 23, 2017 at 10:33 pm #

    Hello Kendra!
    Thanks very much for this video and post! ‘Will the Cloud Eat My DBA Job?’ – To be honest, this question haunts me and my DBA colleagues. This post is encouraging. It gave me some direction, so that I can plan my learning and career options. I’ll share this video with my colleagues. Many of our questions are answered in this post.
    Thanks!

  3. Jason A February 24, 2017 at 9:26 am #

    Certainly food for thought in this topic! I would expect in some industries there will always be a place for the “Old School Databass Administrator” types, although there will be a need for far fewer of them (and frankly I think where I’m at will become the last bastion of that type.)

    Arguably, anything a DBA picks up with an on-premise SQL can largely be transferred to the cloud (as far as skills go, query tuning is query tuning, even if some of the tools change,) the trick is to at least know enough of what you don’t know to know where to start learning the stuff you don’t know.

    Could I manage an Azure or RDS database? Right now, probably yes, but not as well as someone like Grant Fritchey. But I’ve got a foundation to start from, from managing on-premise instances, so it partly becomes a matter of sorting out which cloud tool I need to use.

  4. Zanoni Labuschagne February 27, 2017 at 4:19 am #

    Awesome Article!!! I’ve been in the Data Industry for a VERY long time, and have seen this surface a number of times… and me and my team are busier than ever!!! If machines were going to take our jobs, if some awesome technology brought in self-administering code, or even if Microsoft brought out a DBA-in-a-box option, our “breed” will still have to be in the back-end to make sure stuff carries on working.

    And agreed with the title of DBA disappearing – “Data Engineer” seems to be the flavour of the month, and although the title gets more glamorous, the job stays the same… “My code runs fast on my dev laptop, but so sow on the production server… WHY?”…

    Let me get back to teasing more developers 🙂

  5. timc February 27, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Yes an cars were supposed to obsolete by 2010. For every cloud success there has been a cloud disaster, it would probably behoove DBA’s to understand their data, if you are just a back end DBA your days could be numbered in the next decade

  6. Martin Surasky February 27, 2017 at 10:01 am #

    Hi Kendra,

    I loved your take on that question and the many different things that came up out of that. I’m right now somewhere in the middle of my professional career (20 behind me and hopefully 20+ ahead) so the musings about the IT people coming from the “punch card” era hit very close to home for me.

    I’m not that old, never worked with a punch card in my life but I did start configuring cards that did not work because of IRQ or DMA collisions on Windows 3.1 so that makes me feel a bit old by today’s standards. The speed at which we are introduced to new tools, frameworks, architectures, etc. makes it a little bit dizzying for folks who have been in this for a while.

    This is indeed a great time to be a DBA and I would like to add that on top of everything, it is your soft skills and abilities (capability to do analytical thinking, speed to learn and understand new concepts and ideas, ability to work under pressure, being a good team builder, communicate clearly) what will make the biggest difference when hopping from the “latest and the greatest 1.0” to the “latest and the greatest 2.0” and so on…

    Thanks!

  7. John Songy February 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    Great post! I agree with your assessment that the DBA job is not going away anytime soon.

    I believe the reason why DBAs are so important is that data is often the life-blood of a company. Managers want someone to rely upon to protect their most precious asset. It is very hard to give up the safety and reliability that the DBA can provide in a well managed system.

    As long as the DBA is able to get across the message that the company data is fully protected and highly available, .the DBA will have a secure job.

  8. Reddy Kiran February 27, 2017 at 6:20 pm #

    Awesome, the final thing where you say DBA is just a namesake or doesn’t stick around when you like to solve different problems. That’s so true in my case !!!!! and I guess that’s becoming a norm these days.

  9. rave November 1, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    Very good information , but i have a doubt , If we move the SQL server , MySQL and DB2 to Amazon RDS, Does DBA jobs affected with Amazon RDS?

    • Kendra Little November 9, 2017 at 11:01 am #

      It will definitely be affected, just because it’s quite different!

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