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What Does a DBA Do? 22 DBA Responsibilities You Should Know About: Part I

Author: Craig Mullins | | November 3, 2016

If you are currently a DBA, the title of this post probably made you scoff. But not everyone knows what a DBA is, does, or why they are needed. So let’s give everyone the 4-1-1 so you can be better understood and appreciated.

Every organization that manages data using a database management system (DBMS) requires a database administration group to oversee and assure the proper usage and deployment of the company’s data and databases. With the growing mountain of data and the need to organize that data effectively to deliver value to the business, most modern organizations use a DBMS for their most critical data. So, the need for database administrators (DBAs) is greater today than ever before. However, the discipline of database administration is not well understood nor is it universally practiced in a coherent and easily replicated manner.

Implementing a DBA function in your organization requires careful thought and planning. A successful DBA must acquire a large number of skills — both technological and interpersonal. Let’s examine the skills required of an effective DBA.

1)      General database management. The DBA is the central source of database knowledge in the organization. As such, he must understand the basic rules of relational database technology and be able to accurately communicate them to others.

2)      Data modeling and database design. The DBA must be skilled at collecting and analyzing user requirements to derive conceptual and logical data models. This is more difficult than it sounds. A conceptual data model outlines data requirements at a very high level; a logical data model provides in-depth details of data types, lengths, relationships, and cardinality. The DBA uses normalization techniques to deliver sound data models that accurately depict the data requirements of the business. (Of course, if your organization is large enough, a completely separate group of data administrators may exist to handle logical database design and data modeling.)

3)      Metadata management and repository usage. The DBA must understand the technical data requirements of the organization. But this is not a complete description of her duties. Metadata, or data about data, also must be maintained. The DBA must collect, store, manage, and provide the ability to query the organization’s metadata. Without metadata, the data stored in databases lacks true meaning. (Once again, if your company has a data administration group then this task will be handled by that group. Of course, that does not mean the DBA can ignore meta data management.)

4)      Database schema creation and management. A DBA must be able to translate a data model or logical database design into an actual physical database implementation and to manage that database once it has been implemented. The physical database may not conform to the logical model 100 percent due to physical DBMS features, implementation factors, or performance requirements. The DBA must understand all of the physical nuances of each DBMS used by his organization in order to create efficient physical databases.

5)      Capacity planning. Because data consumption and usage continues to grow, the DBA must be prepared to support more data, more users, and more connections. The ability to predict growth based on application and data usage patterns, and to implement the necessary database changes to accommodate that growth, is a core capability of the DBA.

6)      Programming and development. Although the DBA typically is not coding new application programs, she does need to know how to write effective programs. Additionally, the DBA is a key participant in production turnover, program optimization (BIND/REBIND) and management, and other infrastructure management to enable application programs to operate effectively and efficiently.

7)      SQL code reviews and walk-throughs. Although application programmers usually write SQL, DBAs are likely to be blamed for poor performance. Therefore, DBAs must possess in-depth SQL knowledge so they can understand and review SQL and host language programs in order to recommend changes for optimization.

8)      Performance management and tuning. Dealing with performance problems is usually the biggest post-implementation nightmare faced by DBAs. As such, the DBA must be able to proactively monitor the database environment and to make changes to data structures, SQL, application logic and the DBMS subsystem itself in order to optimize performance.

9)      Ensuring availability. More and more, applications and data are required to be up and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Globalization and e-business are driving many organizations to implement no-downtime, around-the-clock systems. To manage in such an environment, the DBA must ensure data availability using non-disruptive administration tactics.

10)  Data movement. Data, once stored in a database, is not static. The data may need to move from one database to another, from the DBMS into an external data set, or from the transaction processing system into the data warehouse. The DBA is responsible for efficiently and accurately moving data from place to place as dictated by organizational needs.

11)  Backup and recovery. The DBA must implement an appropriate database backup and recovery strategy for each database file based on data volatility and application availability requirements. Without a backup and recovery strategy, system and user errors could render a database inoperable and useless. Furthermore, the backup strategy must be developed with recovery time objectives in mind, so that data is not unavailable for long periods when problems inevitably occur. This is probably one of the – if not the absolute – most important database administration task.

If you are a DBA, hopefully this list looks familiar; if you’re not a DBA, you’ll likely have learned something about DBAs you didn’t know before. With how frequently DBA roles can change within an individual organization, it’s hard to make a comprehensive list. Even so, we’ve found that sharing the details of the job duties of a DBA is helpful in bringing additional support and encouragement from those who interact with them regularly.

If you’ve noticed that this list is not comprehensive, don’t worry. Part II of this post is coming soon and will cover the next 11 job responsibilities of DBAs to round out the list of 22.

This blog was originally published on Craig Mullins’ blog at

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