What does a DBA do all day? (2023)

by bobwatkins in Data Management



What does a DBA do all day?

Data integrity is a DBA's number one responsibility, but do you know what else they do all day? Bob Watkins outlines some of the basic duties of a DBA.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 9, 2006.

It’s been said that the database administrator (DBA) has three basic tasks. In decreasing order of importance, they are: protect the data, protect the data, and protect the data.

Although data integrity is clearly the #1 job (who cares if the database is available or fast if the data isn’t good), the DBA has many other jobs as well. Here’s a list of the actual tasks that a DBA performs. (Some duties are common to all DBAs, and others are only required in some database environments.)

General tasks

  • Installation, configuration, upgrade, and migration
    Although system administrators are generally responsible for the hardware and operating system on a given server, installation of the database software is typically up to the DBA. This job role requires knowledge of the hardware prerequisites for an efficient database server, and communicating those requirements to the system administrator. The DBA then installs the database software and selects from various options in the product to configure it for the purpose it is being deployed. As new releases and patches are developed, it’s the DBA’s job to decide which are appropriate and to install them. If the server is a replacement for an existing one, it’s the DBA’s job to get the data from the old server to the new one.
  • Backup and recovery
    DBAs are responsible for developing, implementing, and periodically testing a backup and recovery plan for the databases they manage. Even in large shops where a separate system administrator performs server backups, the DBA has final responsibility for making sure that the backups are being done as scheduled and that they include all the files needed to make database recovery possible after a failure. When failures do occur, the DBA needs to know how to use the backups to return the database to operational status as quickly as possible, without losing any transactions that were committed. There are several ways the database can fail, and the DBA must have a strategy to recover from each. From a business standpoint, there is a cost to doing backups, and the DBA makes management aware of the cost/risk tradeoffs of various backup methods.
  • Database security
    Because databases centralize the storage of data, they are attractive targets for hackers and even curious employees. The DBA must understand the particular security model that the database product uses and how to use it effectively to control access to the data. The three basic security tasks are authentication (setting up user accounts to control logins to the database), authorization (setting permissions on various parts of the database), and auditing (tracking who did what with the database). The auditing task is particularly important currently, as regulatory laws like Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA have reporting requirements that must be met.
  • Storage and capacity planning
    The primary purpose of a database is to store and retrieve data, so planning how much disk storage will be required and monitoring available disk space are key DBA responsibilities. Watching growth trends are important so that the DBA can advise management on long-term capacity plans.
  • Performance monitoring and tuning
    The DBA is responsible for monitoring the database server on a regular basis to identify bottlenecks (parts of the system that are slowing down processing) and remedy them. Tuning a database server is done on multiple levels. The capacity of the server hardware and the way the operating system is configured can become limiting factors, as can the database software configuration. The way the database is physically laid out on the disk drives and the types of indexing chosen also have an effect. The way queries against the database are coded can dramatically change how fast results are returned. A DBA needs to understand which monitoring tools are available at each of these levels and how to use them to tune the system. Proactive tuning is an attitude of designing performance into an application from the start, rather than waiting for problems to occur and fixing them. It requires working closely with developers of applications that run against the database to make sure that best practices are followed so good performance will result.
  • Troubleshooting
    When things do go wrong with the database server, the DBA needs to know how to quickly ascertain the problem and to correct it without losing data or making the situation worse.

Special environments

In addition to these basic responsibilities, some DBAs need special skills because of how the database is being used.

  • High availability
    With the advent of the Internet, many databases that could have been available only during the day are now required to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Web sites have changed from static, pre-defined content to dynamically created content, using a database to create the page layout at the time a page is requested. If the Web site is available 24×7, so must the underlying database. Managing a database in this environment requires an understanding of which types of maintenance operations can be done online (with the database available to users) and which must be scheduled for a maintenance “window” when the database may be shut down. It also requires planning for redundant hardware and/or software components, so that when one fails, others will keep the total system available to its users. Techniques like online backups, clustering, replication, and standby databases are all tools the DBA can use to ensure higher availability.
  • Very Large Databases (VLDBs)
    As companies have found more and more uses for database technology, they tend to save more data. Also, the type of data stored in databases has changed, from structured data in neat rows and columns to unstructured data such as documents, images, sound files, and even fingerprints. Both trends have the same result: larger databases. Managing a VLDB requires special skills of the DBA. The time required to do simple operations like copying a table can be prohibitive unless done correctly. The DBA needs to understand techniques like table partitioning (Oracle), federated databases (SQL Server), or replication (MySQL) to enable a database to scale to large sizes while still being manageable.
  • Data Extraction, Transformation, and Loading (ETL)
    In data warehouse environments, a key task is efficiently loading the data warehouse or data mart with large volumes of data extracted from multiple existing production systems. Often these production systems have different formats than the standardized definitions in the data warehouse, so data must be transformed (or “cleansed”) before loading. Extracting the data may or may not be the DBA’s responsibility in a given company, but making sure what is extracted is useful is, and the DBA is a key part of the team.

The bottom line for IT leaders

Increasing feature sets in popular database products have steadily increased the number of things a DBA has to master. IT leaders who check for skills in the above key areas can make sure the DBA they hire is up to the task.

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What are DBA responsibilities? ›

The DBA is responsible for understanding and managing the overall database environment. By developing and implementing a strategic blueprint to follow when deploying databases within their organization, DBAs are instrumental in the ongoing efficacy of applications that rely on databases for data storage and access.

Do DBAs write queries? ›

A DBA will know which users run which queries the most, and they may even help the data analysts craft better queries, but they're not usually writing the new queries from scratch.

What are your top 3 skills as a DBA? ›

Key skills for database administrators
  • Patience.
  • Meticulous attention to detail.
  • A logical approach to work.
  • The ability to prioritise tasks.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Good organisational skills.
  • Communication and interpersonal skills.

What technical skills does a DBA need? ›

Which database administrator skills do you need?
  • Backup and recovery.
  • Data modeling and design.
  • Dist. Computing.
  • Database systems.
  • Data security.
  • ERP and business knowledge.

What are the 8 basic operations of the database? ›

The following are the fundamental operations present in a relational algebra:
  • Select Operation.
  • Project Operation.
  • Union Operation.
  • Set Different Operation.
  • Cartesian Product Operation.
  • Rename Operation.

Which of these is not a responsibility of a database administrator? ›

Explanation. Database Administrators should not be authorizing access of clients, due to Separation of Duties principles.

What are the 4 basic database operations? ›

These basic operations are INSERT, SELECT, UPDATE and DELETE statements in SQL language.

Are DBAs respected? ›

A DBA degree is a widely respected and acknowledged professional doctorate in Business Administration. It is designed to challenge the practical knowledge an experienced professional has acquired through their existing career in business, management, or leadership.

Do you call a DBA DR? ›

In academic terms, a DBA is equivalent to a PhD. The qualification is a full doctorate and will allow you to use the title 'Dr'.

Is it worth doing a DBA? ›

The DBA allowed me to focus on a specialist niche of business education and become a thought leader in a particular topic. It's suited for self-motivated, driven experienced business leaders who want to challenge themselves intellectually to go to the next level.

Are DBAs in demand? ›

The average time to fill an open database administrator job is 43 days, indicating a strong level of demand.

What is entry level database administrator? ›

An entry-level database administrator or DBA helps to maintain the security and integrity of an organization's data. They use sophisticated software to undertake these duties. As a new hire, you work as part of a team of other administrators.

How do I learn DBA skills? ›

Here are the steps to become a database administrator:
  1. Decide which technology: Oracle or Microsoft (usually).
  2. Learn the SQL for that database vendor.
  3. Learn more advanced SQL and database topics.
  4. Learn about database administration.
  5. Look for junior database developer roles.
  6. Get experience as a database developer.

Is DBA a stressful job? ›

The role of a database administrator (DBA) is gainful with a good job outlook, but the work can be extremely stressful without much recognition.

Is DBA a tough job? ›

Yes, of course. The responsibilities of DBAs are crucial to the success or failure of an organization or company because they work with their organization or company's data. Therefore, becoming a DBA is difficult and stressful as you will have to shoulder many responsibilities.

What tools do DBA use? ›

DB Management Tools
  • PgAdmin4.
  • Adminer.
  • DbVisualizer.
  • Quest.
  • ManageEngine.
  • Sequel Pro.
  • PHPMyAdmin.

What are 3 types of databases? ›

hierarchical database systems. network database systems. object-oriented database systems.

What are the 3 main functions of a database? ›

A database management system is a software tool that makes it possible to organize data in a database. It is often referred to by its acronym, DBMS. The functions of a DBMS include concurrency, security, backup and recovery, integrity and data descriptions.

What are the 3 levels of database? ›

The ANSI-SPARC database architecture is the basis of most of the modern databases. The three levels present in this architecture are Physical level, Conceptual level and External level.

Who does a database administrator oversee? ›

On a typical day, a Database Administrator monitors one or more company databases to maintain their security. They respond to calls or emails from company employees regarding lost data or other technical defects and troubleshoot problems accordingly.

What does CRUD stand for? ›

CRUD is the acronym for CREATE, READ, UPDATE and DELETE. These terms describe the four essential operations for creating and managing persistent data elements, mainly in relational and NoSQL databases.

What is CRUD used for? ›

CRUD is an acronym that comes from the world of computer programming and refers to the four functions that are considered necessary to implement a persistent storage application: create, read, update and delete.

What are the six major elements of a database? ›

The Elements of a Database
  • The database schema.
  • Schema objects.
  • Indexes.
  • Tables.
  • Fields and columns.
  • Records and rows.
  • Keys.
  • Relationships.
2 Mar 2003

Are DBAs going away? ›

As more systems and processes are automated away with code, the need for DBAs decreases. In time, the role of a DBA may disappear altogether. This ongoing series will examine who DBAs are, what they do, and where they'll go once their job has been replaced by a handful of PowerShell scripts.

What to do after being a DBA? ›

With experience, you could become a:
  1. systems analyst.
  2. IT project manager.
  3. web developer.
  4. network manager.

Is a DBA better than an MBA? ›

The DBA is most certainly an in-demand degree, however, it likely will not overtake the MBA in terms of number of graduates. That being said, the DBA is a very well respected degree and, in combination with your own talents and experiences, can help you stand out among your MBA-credentialed peers.

Can you teach with DBA? ›

Despite this approach, top business schools still need to hire a certain percentage of doctoral-qualified faculty to meet accreditation standards. A top-quality DBA degree meets this need and brings the practitioner-scholar into both the teaching and research worlds of academia.

Why choose a DBA over a PhD? ›

"Traditionally, a PhD leads to an academic career and is seen as adding to the body of knowledge while a DBA is more focused for working professionals who have practical experience in their field and wish to apply existing theories and knowledge to current business problems," she wrote in an email.

Can I do DBA without MBA? ›

Can you get a DBA without an MBA? Usually, an MBA and professional experience are often a requirement for taking a DBA course. However, academic prerequisites can be flexible; therefore, you may be admitted without an MBA (or other Masters) but with real-life experience.

Is a PhD better than a DBA? ›

The PhD may be more appropriate if you are focused on a faculty career in higher education or a career as a researcher in a research center. In contrast, DBAs focus on real-world organizational and business problems and involve original and secondary research to explore, examine, and address those problems.

What are the pros and cons of a DBA vs LLC? ›

The main difference between a DBA and LLC is whether or not you require limited liability protection. This is because an LLC is considered to be a separate legal entity. In comparison, when registering a DBA, there is no distinction between the business assets and your personal assets as an owner.

What are the 5 important objects of database? ›

Database objects
  • Tables.
  • Constraints.
  • Indexes.
  • Triggers.
  • Sequences.
  • Views.
  • Usage lists.

What is database simple words? ›

A database is information that is set up for easy access, management and updating. Computer databases typically store aggregations of data records or files that contain information, such as sales transactions, customer data, financials and product information.

What are the 7 steps in designing your database? ›

The design process consists of the following steps:
  • Determine the purpose of your database. ...
  • Find and organize the information required. ...
  • Divide the information into tables. ...
  • Turn information items into columns. ...
  • Specify primary keys. ...
  • Set up the table relationships. ...
  • Refine your design. ...
  • Apply the normalization rules.

What are the three 3 main phases of database design? ›

The methodology is depicted as a bit by bit guide to the three main phases of database design, namely: conceptual, logical, and physical design.


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