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Increased automation means changing roles for DBAs

DBAs won't face demise in the face of greater automation, but their roles are certainly going to change a great deal, says a speaker at Oracle OpenWorld.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle database administration professionals who are concerned that their professional roles might be diminished in the face of ever-increasing automation can rest easy, according to a prominent speaker at Oracle's OpenWorld conference.

Speaking to attendees yesterday, Noel Yuhanna, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, explained that increased automation will not mean the end of

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The morphing of database administration
Eventually, Yuhanna continued, DBAs will not be as concerned with traditional security issues. Forrester believes that new security groups will emerge at companies who will manage compliance, auditing data and other security requirements.

Security will also become less of an issue because of increased automation and the fact that in general, database management systems are getting smarter. Current DBMS technology isn't very good at differentiating between users and hackers, while future versions will be able to pick up on suspicious activity -- such as a person logging in for the first time in two years -- and alert the system manager.

Yuhanna made it clear, however, that these changes won't take place overnight. Things like doing patches and upgrades will remain a big part of the DBAs life until at least 2010, when greater automation capabilities kick in, he said. DBAs can expect to see their focus on data, architecture and virtualization fully kick in around 2012, he predicted.

Attendees agree
Conference attendees interviewed said that they agreed with Yuhanna's findings and pointed out that evidence of these changes can already be seen today.

"I think that performance tuning is less and less of a problem," said Magdalena Topalovic, a DBA with Columbia University. "[And there are] very basic things that one had to do before that we don't have to do it now. We used to spend all kinds of time with rollback segments and stuff -- not so much anymore."

Topalovic said that the amount of data coming in and out of systems is continuing to grow and it makes sense that DBAs will eventually spend more time managing data itself -- as opposed to database management systems -- as time goes on.

"At the moment the amount of data is not overwhelming, but I'm sure it will be," she said. "Everybody is using IT services to do classes, homework, search libraries and things like that."

Master Sergeant Pete Jones, a longtime programmer, DBA and all around IT guy with the United States Air Force, said the presentation made perfect sense and that many of the pieces of increased automation are already in place.

"The metrics that are being gathered are making it so that it really wouldn't be too much of a stretch to automate various forms of tuning," Jones said. "Backup and recovery is already largely automated whether it's at the [operating system] level with some of the third party software or through Oracle."

Jones said he can see how these changes will lead to changes in DBA responsibilities.

"It's almost like we'll no longer be concerned with the physical forms of storage, [but rather] managing how people get to it," he said. "We're sort of providing availability as opposed to data protection."

Jones added that the idea of the DBA going away hasn't been a concern of his for a long time.

"They've been telling us since I joined the Air Force 21 years ago that I wouldn't have a job much longer," he said. "Well, here I am 21 years later."

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