November 23, 2016

DBAs of the future

After a July visit to DataStax, I wrote

The idea that NoSQL does away with DBAs (DataBase Administrators) is common. It also turns out to be wrong. DBAs basically do two things.

  • Handle the database design part of application development. In NoSQL environments, this part of the job is indeed largely refactored away. More precisely, it is integrated into the general app developer/architect role.
  • Manage production databases. This part of the DBA job is, if anything, a bigger deal in the NoSQL world than in more mature and automated relational environments. It’s likely to be called part of “devops” rather than “DBA”, but by whatever name it’s very much a thing.

That turns out to understate the core point, which is that DBAs still matter in non-RDBMS environments. Specifically, it’s too narrow in two ways.

My wake-up call for that latter bit was a recent MongoDB 3.4 briefing. MongoDB certainly has various efforts in administrative tools, which I won’t recapitulate here. But to my surprise, MongoDB also found a role for something resembling relational database design. The idea is simple: A database administrator defines a view against a MongoDB database, where views:

Besides the obvious benefits in development ease and security, MongoDB says that performance can be better as well.* This is of course a new feature, without a lot of adoption at this time. Even so, it seems likely that NoSQL doesn’t obsolete any part of the traditional DBA role.

*I didn’t actually ask what a naive programmer can do to trash performance that views can forestall, but … well, I was once a naive programmer myself. :)

Two trends that I think could make DBA’s lives even more interesting and challenging in the future are:

Bottom line: Database administration skills will be needed for a long time to come.

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