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Remote DBAs: Not the next big thing

Find out what the future holds for remote DBA firms -- and why they no longer strike fear in the hearts of database professionals.

When David Wright, who serves as president of the Utah Oracle Users Group, first heard the term "remote DBA" several years ago, the phrase "unemployed DBAs" jumped to mind.

Remote DBA companies provide software and routine database maintenence via the internet. Remote DBA firms bill themselves as a way to provide round-the-clock database coverage while cutting the cost of having an DBA on-site only to provide routine maintenance

"I was really worried a few years back," Wright said. "The fact that someone could monitor and maintain a large group of databases located across the country made me think all our jobs would disappear."

The fact that someone could monitor and maintain a large group of databases located across the country made me think all our jobs would disappear.

David Wright
Oracle DBAChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Wright, who now serves as a DBA overseeing more than 200 Oracle databases at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is breathing a lot easier today. Some initial fears that remote DBA services would steal high-paying, on-site DBA jobs have been put to rest, Wright said. It's offshore outsourcing that has DBAs worried, most industry experts agree, not the sort of remote services that companies use to augment their full-time staffs.

Remote DBA services include monitoring, troubleshooting, patch deployment, upgrades, and user account management. The services can cost as little as can run $1,000 a month to as much as $20,000 a month, depending on the number of instances a company has.

Farooq Ahmad, global director of IT services at Converge Global Trading Exchange, said his company chose a remote DBA servicing firm about two years ago to provide routine services to its Oracle database as a cost saving measure. The Peabody, Mass.-based computer parts distributor chose Ntirety when it wanted its DBA staff to shift to development work, Ahmad said.

"It's become more cost efficient and freed them up the DBAs to focus mostly on development," Ahmad said. "Our DBAs were mostly overworked -- and this has given them more time to focus on important projects for us."

While companies like Converge are saving up to 40% on IT costs by using a remote DBA firm, the smart companies are keeping a team of DBAs on staff, and on site, to monitor the most critical databases and respond to problems that arise, said Noel Yuhanna, a senior industry analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

Yuhanna said there hasn't been a great push for remote DBA services like some had predicted. One of reasons is the increased database automation technology that has removed much of the drudgery of DBA work. The other is that companies are fearful of placing their databases in the hands of a person they do not know, he said.

"The DBA job is taking less effort since vendors are making databases more intelligent and that is making DBAs more productive and cost effective," Yuhanna said. "And giving away administrative level passwords to remote DBA vendors to gain access can and should be a concern."

Even Michael Corey, Founder and CEO of remote DBA firm, Ntirety, said that he still prefers and environment where there is an on-site DBA.

"There are certain things we can do well for a client, but there are times when something critical takes place, and an on-site DBA can work quickly with us to get the problem solved faster -- and at a lesser cost to the company," Corey said. "Most companies that we do business with have an on-site DBA."

Very small shops with limited DBA requirements, and larger firms looking to augment their DBA staff s, will continue to seek out remote DBA servicing firms, but that won't mean the elimination of a large number of DBA jobs, said Craig Mullins, site expert and director of DB2 technology planning at BMC Software Inc.

Simply put, companies face losing millions of dollars if a database goes down and no DBA is available to recover it, he said.

But companies do see the benefits of having a DBA monitor their data on a 24-hour basis, said Don Burleson, an independent consultant who heads Kittrell, N.C.-based Burleson Remote DBA and is a site expert.

"Companies choose our firm to prevent employee burnout and the high attrition rate related to the long hours DBAs typically work," Burleson said. "Remote DBA firms should be used to supplement a company's talent pool."


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