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Taking a blow

Is DevOps crushing the DBA?

Pierre Fricke
Wall image via Shutterstock

Pierre Fricke is back to discuss DevOps and its role in what he is the calling the battle between the creative developers and the process junkies. What will the future bring for the role of DBAs?

DevOps has quickly become one of the trendy topics being discussed in the media and among industry executives. For them it’s the Next Big Thing. The claim is that DevOps is game changing for application development in the world of Hadoop and NoSQL databases. It is understandable that many see it as pivotal in today’s world of fast-moving web-based and mobile application development cycles.

There is, however, a concerning subtext to this lobby. It implies that control of decision-making should shift from the database administrator to the development team. While I absolutely agree there is need for change in the way IT departments implement applications, I urge caution against simply transferring control to the development team. Senior management teams should consider the impact of the different approaches to application development.

SEE ALSO: Why DevOps really is about culture

Traditionally, DBAs had all the power at least when it came to DBMS decisions. I’ve read many blogs recounting the nostalgic days when DBAs laid down the law to prevent rogue implementations. This was not always good for innovation and helping businesses respond to market opportunities. The arrival of Software-as-a-Service and the rise of mobile applications have completely changed the dynamic and companies holding on to such rigid IT models are being left behind. Agile is the approach of choice in Shoreditch and beyond among the trend-etting next-gen tech start-ups. Even the UK Government Digital Service has talked consistently about the need for becoming more agile.

We all accept that command control approaches to management are limiting. DevOps is giving companies the opportunity to introduce new applications, and adapt them dynamically in response to customer need. This is an immensely positive development for CIOs. Now they can be seen making a valuable contribution to business strategy, rather than simply sitting with arms folded and shaking their heads when the CEO asks for change.

And yet, adopting this development-led mindset is challenging. There is an impact on culture, not just in the IT department, but further into the business. It forces a flatter, more collaborative organisational structure, fast moving and constantly adapting. In contrast the core role of a DBA has always been to keep the datalights on. Decision-making processes and workflow diagrams add necessary structure, but they also add time to the implementation. Fundamentally they slow down agile IT environments.

That said, their approach also adds an important level of assurance and security. As a result, they have gained a reputation as the “kill joys” of the IT department. But let’s not get carried away with the move to this agile environment. Ultimately it boils down to governance. While it is great that the Cloud is democratising IT ever more and making it easier for non-specialists to adopt technology, someone still has to tie it all together. Rapid implementations are in danger of creating silos, which will make it even harder for IT teams to cope.

Indeed, as this article illustrated challenges in the financial industry, instead of legacy systems being a thing of the past, IT departments are in danger of overseeing increasingly complex real estate. This is not just an operational headache. It can also carry serious regulatory and financial consequences if systems go down and affect essential services for customers and the general public.

It may be that in the future the role of DBA disappears, but I would certainly encourage every IT team to consider the benefits of retaining a DBA’s mindset. Much more beneficial to the enterprise, though, would be to include the DBA in the new DevOps processes and teams. It should not be a battle between the creative developers and the process junkies. Working together will be critical and beneficial for companies as they adjust to operating in this digital age.

Author
Pierre Fricke
Pierre Fricke is Vice President of Product Marketing at EnterpriseDB Corporation and was previously a Red Hat JBoss executive.

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