What is a Database Administrator (DBA)?

In short – DBAs aren't going away anytime soon, but database automation is ramping up.
Data may be boring to many, but not for database administrators. Database administrators are at the forefront of the ongoing data revolution. Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. And in the last two years, humans have collected more data than the rest of human history combined. While big data is an unstoppable force, many companies are struggling to process and store the immense volume of incoming data.

Database administrators are responsible for designing, implementing, configuring, and maintaining database management systems used to store all of this data. Without a database administrator, a business's database system may fall into disarray. This is a tremendous risk to the business and can lead to system failure, lost revenues, and data leaks. Continue reading to learn more about the role and responsibilities of database administrators (DBA) and if your business should consider adding a DBA to your team.
What is a Database Administrator?
A database administrator is an information technology (IT) professional, responsible for database systems. Database administrators can focus on a niche within the field or provide general DBA services. A database administrator may focus on a specific database management system (relation database management systems are most common), such as:

Alternatively, a DBA may specialize in a specific database process. For example, a database administrator may assist with database management system (DBMS) implementation, configuration, or optimization. Specialization is more common in contract and freelance roles, or for very large enterprises. DBAs working for smaller companies will need to handle a wide range of activities and be a jack-of-all-trades.
What does a Database Administrator do?
Typically, a database administrator manages all aspects of the database system, including installing and upgrading the database software, monitoring and planning for database storage requirements as well as ensuring stable database operations, and much more. The responsibilities and skills needed to be a successful DBA are broad, as such, database administrators command a healthy salary. Let's break down these responsibilities to better understand the value DBAs could provide to your enterprise:
1. Database Management System Selection
When companies want to migrate their DBMS to another option or implement a database system from scratch, database administrators can provide invaluable insight. DBAs will consult with stakeholders, SMEs, cybersecurity colleagues, and data analysts, to determine the company's unique needs. Database administrators will then suggest the best database options available to the company.
2. Database System Implementation
A database administrator is responsible for designing and implementing DBMSs. The DBA needs to understand the company's needs and properly plan, before the complex software of a DBMS can be implemented.

Each database management system has set operating requirements, which can be found in the documentation for that specific database management system. Database administrators will review any installation instructions and familiarize themselves with documentation. DBAs will make sure the hardware requirements are met for the chosen DBMS, including CPU requirements, storage requirements, and memory requirements.
3. Configure and Tune DBMS
When a DBMS is first implemented, the initial settings of the system variables may not be ideal. A database administrator will engage in database tuning, the process of maximizing system resources to improve efficiency. DBAs need to be well versed in information technology and database systems to properly tune a database. Each system variable will interact with the system differently and affect memory, CPU, and I/O usage. Tuning a database is an incredibly important step to improve performance and stability across different workloads.
4. Establish Policies and Procedures
A DBA will outline the operating standards and procedures for each database in use. Standardization reduces operating costs and ensures consistency across the database environment. Detailed procedures provide step-by-step instructions to end-users. For example, developing a procedure for system recovery after an outage will improve recovery and minimize downtime and losses.

The database administrator may develop some of the policies and procedures outlined below:
  • Security standards
  • Migration procedures
  • System administration standards
  • Application development standards
  • Data handling standards
  • Data Backup prodecures
5. Regular Database Backups
DBAs are responsible for scheduling and executing database backups on a regular schedule. Backups are absolutely critical to preventing data loss in catastrophic failure situations. A backup provides a complete copy of the data stored in the database, at the time the backup was created. If data loss occurs after that point, only the data created after the backup will be lost. Highly skilled database administrators will have tested backups and a restore strategy that has been thoroughly practiced. Restore strategies are as important as backups.
6. Database Security and Access Privileges
Database administrators will act as the central authority when managing a DBMS. DBAs will be responsible for protecting the security of the database, to prevent data corruption and unauthorized access. Database administrators will also:
  • Create user accounts – enables new users to access the database system
  • Grant privileges – provide privileges and access to specific accounts as needed
  • Revoke privileges – remove privileges from specific accounts as needed
  • Assign Security level – assign user accounts appropriate security clearance within the database system

Database administrators are concerned about cybersecurity threats, such as hacking and malware. Oftentimes the data stored within a company's DBMS is sensitive personal and financial information on users, employees, and business transactions.

Data leaks are extremely bad for the reputation of a business and can cause users to take their business elsewhere. Database administrators need to be focused on being responsible custodians of data. DBAs may collaborate with cybersecurity colleagues to continually improve and update database security procedures.
7. Training Materials
Database administrators should create training materials as time permits. While this responsibility falls lower on a DBAs to-do list, robust training can prevent many database issues. Employees that lack the training to properly use and access the company's DBMS, can wreak havoc. DBAs need to consult employees to understand their barriers. This will help the database administrator to develop engaging educational materials that employees will truly benefit from.
Why have a Database Administrator on the team?
More than likely your company uses databases, it's standard business practice at this point. Databases are the best method for storing sensitive user data, expenses and sales information, internal metrics, and more because they are secure and provide an easy way to query and use the information. Modern businesses need to make sure their data is safe and organized.

Without proper database management practices, a company will be unable to leverage data for its benefit. A database administrator helps protect this environment so that data analysts and other adjacent roles can do their important work. Data analysts will be stuck slogging through bad data and waiting forever for queries if the database has not been properly managed. Database administrators are an important part of the data ecosystem of modern companies.

A skilled DBA will incorporate best practices into their work and are worth the investment.

If no database administrator is on the team, other IT professionals will likely need to fill in. But IT professionals specialize in a wide range of topics. Not all IT professionals are trained in database administration, and it's not a skill that can be picked up with extremely short notice.
When should you hire a Database Administrator?
The importance of a skilled database administrator should not be understated. Companies that value the health, optimization, and security of their database systems will not compromise in this area. Large enterprises will likely have a team of database administrators, each focused on a specific aspect of the database or an individual database environment.

If your company is small or midsized, adding a single database administrator can be an incredible asset to your team. As your company's database environment gets more complex, the need for a qualified DBA grows. A DBA administrator will handle the day-to-day operations of your DBMS, keeping your system running optimally and preventing data loss or security failures. When your company starts to outgrow it's existing DBMS and see the deterioration of performance, it may be time to hire a DBA. Oftentimes a company will decide to hire a database administrator when they hire a data analyst.
When shouldn't you hire a Database Administrator?
A database administrator is vital to keep database environments like MySQL, MariaDB, and others, in top shape, but there is a rising tide of database automation that is changing this. DBAs are finding more of their day-to-day mundane tasks can be completed using automated tools. By automating certain tasks, such as database building, monitoring, and tuning, database administrators have more free time to handle other concerns.

DBAs will oversee the automation operations and have the ability to work on better optimization or management tasks as needed. While automation handles mundane tasks, DBAs are still needed to handle complex tasks such as virtualization and database cloud deployments. Simply put, database administrators spend less time doing administrative work and more time working to improve database architecture.

Small to midsized companies may be unable or unwilling to invest $70,000 to $125,000 towards the yearly salary of one or multiple database administrators. Companies can hire a single full-time DBA or opt to hire a DBA on a part-time freelance basis. By contracting out database administration, businesses have on-demand access to high-quality talent.

Alternatively, there are budget-friendly database management solutions available to these businesses. When a business decides to go this route, it can benefit greatly from automation tools.

Releem provides MySQL tuning as a service, to help reduce costs and improve performance for MySQL, MariaDB, and Percona servers. Releem's three automation tools work together to collect and analyze metrics, provide server recommendations, and apply recommendations automatically (or manually if desired). Releem provides great monthly pricing options for smaller companies, but can scale up to enterprise-level as needed. Boost the performance of your companies database servers today with Releem!

Author: Roman Agabekov