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When is remote DBA the right solution?

Author: Chuck Edwards | | February 10, 2009

A remote DBA service can provide access to experts in performance tuning, backup and recovery, replication, or a host of other database focus areas for a fraction of the cost of a full-time resource, but not everyone sees the value.  That’s OK.  This post will hopefully illuminate a few common problems that may be solved by engaging remote DBA:

You just lost another DBA to a better-paying job.

Even great technical people who love what they do can get tired of the late nights and weekends; the unexpected, last-minute requests from business teams; and the crashed server at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Of course you should competitively compensate and reward good people, but money is only part why key employees stay with an organization.  If you provide top-cover for your DBA team and tell them they don’t have to be on call and don’t need to work unexpectedly on weekends anymore then you’ll make your organization far more attractive than others, even if the others pay more.

Your DBA doesn’t have time for that project, fixing the monitoring, testing the restore, etc…

If your DBA complains that he’s too slammed or you feel that he can’t get anything done, maybe it’s because he is too slammed and can’t get anything done.  Sometimes there are simply too many things to do.  A remote DBA firm can help.  If your DBA doesn’t have time for routine maintenance, hand it to the remote DBA team.  If your DBA has one too many projects on his plate (applying that patch or fixing that nagging, broken monitor) hand one to a remote DBA team.  A good remote DBA firm is flexible enough to handle a variety of tasks and will make your in-house DBA better at his job, not take it away.

You suspect your DBA might not be very good at performance tuning, backup and recovery, replication…

When you hired your DBA, he was a rock star.  He solved every problem on your plate because that’s why you hired him.  As time went on and new problems arose, he handled some so well you didn’t know they existed; some he did the best he could; some were simply outside his experience and expertise.  Remote DBA provides a team of DBAs with years of varied experience.  Adding even minimal remote DBA coverage allows your DBA to collaborate with peers and become a better technician while solving more problems faster than he ever could on his own.

You have a critical database, but no dedicated DBA.

Sure, your sysadmin can get a database up and running and your developer can write SQL, but would you assign your sysadmin development projects?  Would you ask your developer to cluster a pile of Linux servers?  Probably not a good idea.  Well, then why ask them to administer a database?  Database administration is a distinct role and skill-set; if your critical data is in a database, you need a DBA.  A good remote DBA firm allows you to tap into their team for the tasks and support you need from specialists who know how to work with system admins and developers to make their jobs easier and your database run the way it’s supposed to.

You’re an Oracle, MySQL or SQL Server shop, and the CFO just handed you a different database for a pet project.

You have a crack team of 6 SQL Server DBAs handling dozens of databases without breaking a sweat.  Everything is automated to the teeth.  There’s no performance issue that goes unanticipated or can’t be solved.  You could recover every database in the shop between cups of morning coffee.  But what about the one Oracle database off in the corner?  Has it been patched?  What happens when it runs out of space?  Can it be recovered?  DBAs have general knowledge that translates reasonably well from platform to platform, but the reason your SQL Server team is so good is because they’re a team.  Is that one Oracle database less critical?  Shouldn’t an equally skilled team take care of that database too?  Remote DBA allows you to hire a whole team instead of distracting your staff with unfamiliar and risky tasks, ensuring you have the same quality support for all your databases.

You use Google, a book, the database vendor or your sales engineer as your DBA.

Your database vendor is not your DBA.  Neither is Google nor a book.  Your sales engineer might be a good DBA, but that’s not his job; his job is to sell you stuff, not operational support.  The vendor provides bug fixes, upgrades, and maybe training.  But if you’re trying to find operational database help for the price of a book or a few hours with your sales engineer, you need remote DBA.  A good remote DBA firm will give you access to a team of experienced administrators around the clock for a fraction of the cost of full-time help.  They will monitor your database and take care of everyday issues like space management as well as helping you decide when to patch, when to upgrade, how to tune that crazy query, and a list of other tasks you’d spend weeks trying to glean from a random collection of unfocused sources.

Your database crashed yesterday… and it’s still down.

A good remote DBA firm has DBAs literally standing by to take your call with emergency support services that will engage immediately.  Even data from a database deemed “unrecoverable” might be recoverable to some extent.  Concerned about the cost?  What is the down database costing you right now?  Like any business, a remote DBA firm wants a long-term relationship, so talk to them about the costs at some point, but get them engaged and stop messing around with guesswork and resources who don’t recover databases for a living.  Even if you have a DBA skilled in recovery, if the database has been down for a while, they might welcome a little help and guidance.

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