Oracle's Autonomous Database may have database admins worried, but it shouldn't. The DBA role in an automated world will change, but it won't be eliminated.
Database administrators (DBAs) are right to worry about automation.
A decade ago the rise of cloud computing took hardware management away from DBAs, leaving many worried about the future of DBAs in the era of virtualized servers.
Now in 2019 there's another database automation tool worrying DBAs: Oracle's Autonomous Database. Unlike traditional databases, the Oracle Autonomous Database takes care of most mundane tasks, and even some of the more complicated ones, all on its own, taking yet another batch of responsibilities away from DBAs.
At first glance it makes sense for DBAs to be worried about autonomous databases: What would their role be in a world where databases manage themselves? There's more to it than that, and DBAs need not be concerned about the loss of their positions.
That doesn't mean DBAs should rest on the laurels of their current skill set. The era of automation we're entering will make the DBA role very different. Oracle said it best in the advice they give for DBAs (PDF) in the era of autonomy: It's time to pivot away from data administration and become a data architect.
What database automation will do
Oracle is the first database company to release an automated product, but it most certainly won't be the last. Since Oracle's approach to database automation is the only model we have to go on, that's how I'll be approaching the general idea of database automation.
Oracle's Autonomous Database "eliminates complexity, human error, and manual management, helping to ensure higher reliability, security, and more operational efficiency at the lowest cost," the company said.
The goal behind Oracle Autonomous Database is to eliminate a lot of the manual labor that DBAs had to do in the past, which in turn eliminates quite a bit of their day-to-day responsibilities, which haven't changed much in the past decade.
Oracle breaks its database automation into three areas:
- Self-driving, which means the database itself handles patching, upgrades, and tuning while the database is running, and without the need for any human intervention.
- Self-securing databases take care of all their own security needs. They automatically encrypt data, handle security updates without the need for downtime, and protect against external and internal attacks.
- Self-repairing means that the database will "automatically detect and apply corrective actions to ensure nonstop access to your data." It also uses Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) and cross-region Oracle Active Data Guard to increase uptime and smooth repairs.
Those and other changes, Oracle claims, can cut an enterprise's AWS bill in half if the company migrates to an Oracle Autonomous Database.
DBAs take note: Nowhere in Oracle's description of its Autonomous Database does it mention human administrators becoming obsolete.
As TechRepublic sister site ZDNet pointed out when the Oracle Autonomous Database was revealed in detail in October 2018, "the autonomous database won't model your data or create the schema. While applying machine learning to a set of data could generate a skeletal schema, at some point, somebody needs to write some SQL statements to lock in the model. While machine learning can spot disconnects in performance and costs, it won't spot whether end users are getting the answers that they really need."
What DBAs should do to prepare for the automated future of databases
Like it or not, the role of the DBA is changing, and qualified DBAs who want to maintain or advance their positions will need to work on some new skills.
Oracle has an entire webpage dedicated to how Autonomous Database will affect DBAs, and it contains a lot of great advice.
For starters, DBAs need to stop thinking like maintenance workers and engineers who keep things operational, and more like data scientists. Penny Avril, Oracle's VP of database project management even goes so far as to tell DBAs to drop the "B" and think of themselves more as "DAs," or data administrators.
"A data administrator isn't just keeping data in a database, but understands the importance of that data to key business stakeholders and in driving the business forward."
Learning more about how to turn managed data into actionable items is essential for future DBAs working inside an automated environment: That database is going to handle all the mundane work on its own, so be prepared to have more free time to experiment, explore, and analyze.
SEE: Machine automation policy guidelines (Tech Pro Research)
In the ZDNet article referenced previously, author Tony Baer mentions that DBAs will have an additional challenge along with learning new skills: Showing executives eager to cut costs that they're still essential.
If you're concerned about your position being eliminated in favor of an automated database, don't fret. Instead, start reading up on Oracle's information for DBAs and be ready to respond to any questions with just how automation will affect, and transform, your job.
Automated databases won't eliminate the need for administrators—it will make DBAs even more valuable by giving them more time for analytic work that can make business analytics even more effective. The last thing an organization should do is get rid of the people who know how that data works.
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