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Weighing remote database administration pros and cons takes care

Remote database administration makes sense for some organizations -- and some DBAs -- according to a speaker at Collaborate.

How do you open a session on database outsourcing at a conference for Oracle database and application professionals?

"No DBA has ever lost [his] job doing business with my company," was how Michael Corey -- founder and CEO of Boston-based database outsourcing firm Ntirety -- began his session at the Collaborate '08 conference this month. "We solve what a piece of a database does. We don't solve the whole thing."

What will happen if your DBA is run over by a truck? Don't think it couldn't happen. I've been run over by a truck. 
Michael Corey
founder and CEONtirety

Being replaced by an outsourcer is a valid concern for database administrators, but for some attendees at Corey's session, the greater concern was just how to get into remote database administration themselves.

"It seems like this is a big market that's only growing," said Erick Cotsonas, a systems architect and Oracle database specialist for Technology Consulting Services, of Bolingbrook, Ill.

Cotsonas has been working with Oracle applications for the last eight years and is looking for a new experience. Getting into remote database administration seems promising, he said.

Similarly, Mahesh Saraswat, an Oracle applications system/project/database administrator with MS Technology Consulting Inc. of Northridge, Calif., likes the idea of working remotely and focusing in on a few areas.

"The Internet has made the world flat," Saraswat said. "[Remote administration is] a service where you're more valuable and can ask for higher rates. Plus, it's a growing field, a $5 billion market. The role of the DBA is changing. We are increasingly being used on the functional side."

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Database administration outsourcing, or remote database administration, is indeed seeing significant growth, thanks to a few key factors, according to Ntirety's Corey. Databases keep getting bigger, there are more applications, each growing and becoming more complex, and DBAs are getting harder to find and keep trained.

Simply put, Corey said, there are three ways to cope with the growing demand: hire more DBAs, pay for an onsite consultant, or use an outsourcing firm.

The Internet and sophisticated security procedures have made remote database administration a viable alternative.

Is remote database administration right for you?

Remote database administration is an especially attractive option for smaller companies or businesses located in places where talent can be hard to find.

"We do a lot of business in Maine, because there aren't many people up there," Corey said. "Company size does matter."

Small and midsized businesses have the same critical need for DBAs that larger organizations have, but they don't have the same resources and enterprise operations.

Another reason to turn to remote database administration is for the sake of the DBAs in your organization, Corey said. In fact, in-house DBAs can benefit from turning to an outsourcer because it can free them up for more strategic or learning opportunities.

"Good DBAs are looking for an environment they can learn in, for challenges and collaboration with other DBAs," he said. "No one wants to be on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Are your DBAs able to share that burden with someone else?"

Cyclical businesses like ski resorts or financial services firms with heavy quarterly reporting requirements are good candidates for remote database administration, as are companies that need insurance in case of a disaster.

"Do you need an insurance policy?" Corey asked. "What will happen if your DBA is run over by a truck? Don't think it couldn't happen. I've been run over by a truck."

Companies that need help managing Oracle patches and upgrades can also benefit. Outsourcers can pitch in with their expertise to get organizations through those projects. That's key, Corey said, because the patch-and-upgrade process is never as easy as Oracle makes it sound.

"I love it -- 'unbreakable Oracle' -- give it a break," he said. "Oracle had no daylight savings time issue. Really? We've had to scramble because the vendor wasn't being upfront about it."

Companies looking for a predictable monthly database administration cost and companies with multiple remote locations are also good candidates.

No discussion of database outsourcing can ignore offshore providers. When considering offshore outsourcers, organizations can generally count on the offshore organization being cheaper, Corey said, but they should remember that those providers tend not to have as many years of experience and often go through a middleman.

"If you're going offshore, I would argue: Build a balanced business," he said.

Questions to ask your database administration outsourcer

If you've decided that all or part of your business can benefit from remote database administration, there are some key things to ask potential outsourcers, according to Corey. Organizations are better served by outsourcers that use commercial scripting tools rather than homegrown tools. While some may be effective, in general, an outsourcer is not going to build custom tools that outperform the likes of BMC and CA, he said.

Some turnover is unavoidable, but companies considering remote database administration should also take a close look at employee retention at an outsourcer, as well as the amount of training and education offered to DBAs. Also, make sure the outsourcer conducts background checks.

"You can't coach kids' soccer in my town without a background check," Corey said. "Why would you do business with a vendor that doesn't do background checks?"

The security of the remote connection is also an area that deserves close attention. Corey uses a broker between his DBAs and the client, for example. When DBAs leave, he can turn off their access with one quick call to the broker.

Companies should also have a clear understanding of the support escalation process, emergency response times, and trigger processes.

Who shouldn't try remote database administration?

Given his business, one might expect Corey to be an advocate for widespread database outsourcing. But it's not right for some organizations, he said.

Large companies, the Fidelitys and Googles of the world that can afford the staff, can probably do it themselves. Also, organizations on older applications, with no real plans to upgrade, can often do without.

"If you're on Oracle 7 and don't plan to migrate until you're forced to, outsourcing probably isn't right for you," Corey said.

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