The Importance of Database Administration

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “Data is the New Oil”.   There was an article from the Economist back in 2017 entitled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”.   That article mainly focuses on the power of the new titans of the digital age – Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. However, we also find this to be true for the companies we work with.  As companies mine their systems for information, they are able to make better informed decisions and learn things about their products and services that might not have been obvious otherwise. 

With this importance of data comes the responsibility to secure and protect that data.  At Solve100, we specialize in helping people pull data from many different data sources and analyze it in tools such as Qlik, Power BI and Tableau.  However, all of that is only possible because data is stored and is accessible from databases.   Yes, we pull data from flat-files, web services and other locations, but every client we work with has databases. 

Those databases are housed on database servers that need to be administered.    A database administrator (DBA) has a lot of tasks that are important to tackle.  Let’s cover a few to show the importance of database administration. 

Key Aspects of Database Administration

So, what are the most important aspects of database administration?

  1. Backup and Recovery

Probably the most important role of a database administrator is ensuring that a system can be recovered in the event of some sort of failure or data loss. 

Most companies assume that their databases are well backed up and that those backups will be able to be meaningfully used in the event of a crisis.   However, we’ve found that many times no one has attempted to actually recover from those backups, and they aren’t as available as they thought.   In addition, we’ve seen situations where database server VMs were backed up as entire machine images as the backup approach. 

With the rise of ransomware, having good database backups in addition to server backups can make a huge difference in protecting a company’s data and ability to conduct business. Many of our clients have started doing differential backups during the day and are retaining backups longer. 

In addition, some of our clients implement a form of geography-based redundancy where they leverage the ability to transfer database changes to a backup server locally and remote every 15-30 minutes to ensure against data loss.

2. Data Integrity and Security

Although backups are a great first line of defense, databases can be successfully backed up but then have issues such as data corruption. It is important to not only ensure good backups but run data integrity checks on a regular basis to ensure data integrity.

In addition, most of us are aware of the rise in cybersecurity attacks.  It is extremely important to keep data safe and an effective data administration policy helps.  A database system deployed with strict control over who can access the data in the system can play a role in limiting human errors which can lead to successful cyber-attacks. These access controls include implementing authentication and encryption that ensure sensitive data is kept safe. 

We often see database servers where users are granted more permissions than needed and that can put the system at risk if any of those user ids are compromised.  It is important for users to have rights only to the databases they need access to and at the right level.  For example, a reporting user should only need “read” rights and not have the ability to change data.

3. Performance and Productivity

The purpose of databases is to store information.  As more information is added to a database, they will start to operate slower for the user since the computer is having to sort through more data to provide data back to the calling applications. 

A database administrator can analyze a database server to identify slow running queries, monitor server resources and watch for processes that conflict with each other.  By monitoring and making changes, a database administrator can make systems more responsive for the end user and thus increase productivity.

4. High Availability

High Availability is similar to backup and recovery, but more focused on uptime.  When a database server fails, it is important to get a new server up and running as quickly as possible.  For some of our customers, downtime needs to be minimized as much as possible as the databases control manufacturing systems and all work stops when the server fails. 

Setting up high availability server environments can enable quick and even automatic failovers to keep data and systems available for end users.

Understanding the Roles and Responsibilities of a Database Administrator

Most companies have skilled IT professionals who manage desktops and servers, but not someone who possesses the DBA skills that help keep a database server operating at top efficiency.  Most IT professionals focus on backup and recovery, but not many of the other aspects of database administration. 

We consider the following key responsibilities for a database administrator:

  • Database design

The planning of a database is the responsibility of the DBA, and they will be responsible for coming up with conceptual ideas on the management system and parameters to be integrated into the system.

  • Monitoring User Access

A DBA is tasked with ensuring that the data in a database management system is constant throughout its use and users can access this data. The administrator will be responsible for defining how users can access a database. The database administrator will also be tasked with ensuring front-end users can access information without encountering any problems.

  • Enhancing Data Security

A DBA is expected to maintain the security of the database and that of the users making use of it. This task also includes making sure that the planned or designed database is compliant with the Data Protection Act. Lastly, in terms of security, the administrator is expected to develop a disaster recovery strategy that can protect the database management system in precarious security situations.

  • Manage Storage and Back-up Solutions

The database administrator is responsible for ensuring the storage and archiving features meet the capacity requirements of the organization. The DBA must also ensure that storage procedures are functioning properly and the data in these systems are correctly backed up.  DBAs design AND test backup strategies to make sure backups will be effective once a need for a restore occurs.

  • Collaborate with Stakeholders

A database administrator is expected to have good interpersonal skills since they will be communicating with IT programmers, software developers and other individuals that maintain the IT infrastructures of an organization.

  • Monitoring and Testing

And while all of the above are important, another key role of the DBA is staying on top of the database environment and knowing when scheduled activities fail and being timely in addressing any issues.  In addition, testing your processes by simulating a server failure and making sure that the backup plans and recovery plans function appropriately are critical.  You don’t want to be testing a recovery / restore for the first time during an emergency.

Final thoughts

In summary, the benefits of database administration for your business processes are many and varied. They include receiving business insight, automating processes, enhancing productivity and much more. This is why it is recommended that companies consider employing a database administrator.

If you don’t have one on staff or want an independent opinion on your environment, please feel to reach out to Solve100.  We have database administrators available on a part-time basis who can integrate to your team or can perform an independent health check of your environment. 

Team Solve

Business intelligence is our passion. We thrive to help you grow your business through solving critical problems by using data. The team behind this passion is made up of all walks of life, and we all have the same drive to help you find new solutions to old problems.