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Remote database administration: What to look for in a provider

Managing an Oracle shop expert Michael Hillenbrand talks about his experiences with remote database administration.

What has your experience been with remote database administration? I recently stumbled across Bluewolf's site (based out of NYC, with offices around the world) and they provide remote DBA for a fraction of the cost.
Remote DBA services are a popular alternative to in-sourcing (internal staffing) database administration and/or support. A remote dba services provider typically has a team of DBAs that connect to your systems via secure VPN and provide 24x7 monitoring and support, usually at a fraction of the cost. The popularity of these services continues to grow as databases become increasingly more complex, IT talent harder to find and retain, and IT departments continually pressured to do more with less. Most providers support the major systems including Oracle, SQL Server and DB2.

As for personal experiences, I have been leading efforts to provide remote DBA services successfully for well over 10 years so it may be hard to give you an unbiased response. I can however give you some advice as to what to look for in a provider:

  • Flexible. Make sure that you are not purchasing some commoditized, pre-packaged service, but rather that your provider customizes a Service Level Agreement based on your individual needs and budget.
  • Established. You want to be sure that you are dealing with a well established, financially sound, company that has the infrastructure to support you 24x7. The last thing you want to discover is that your provider cannot connect to your databases because their network is down. Asking for a tour of their data center might be a good way to separate the established companies from the "DBAs working out of their basements".
  • Teaming. You will want to take advantage of teamwork to brainstorm and efficiently resolve issues. Does the team work together in the same office or are they located all over the place? Monitoring. Be sure that the provider has the right toolset to monitor your systems 24x7. Some providers use their own scripts, some use 3rd party tools.
  • Best Practices . Make sure that your provider follows a best practices framework (ITIL) and that you get detailed documentation as to how you will get support, how escalations will occur, how incidents will be handled and how change control will work. Make sure that the provider's policies and procedures closely match your own.
  • Capabilities. First and foremost, can your provider support the databases you have? What if you add a different database technology or need non-database related help? Can they assist with business continuity planning? Can they host? Can they help with development, operating system or network issues? These are all value-added services that you may need later.
  • Detailed Contract . A well documented service level agreement with detailed service definitions will go a long way toward eliminating misunderstandings later.

    For more information on Remote DBA services, read the article Weighing remote database administration pros and cons takes care.

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