Database administrators often find it difficult to articulate their value to an organization. This is surprising given that almost every part of today’s businesses are driven by reliable data.
Databases are mission-critical. The minute a database goes offline, you can start counting the costs. Take, for example, the experience of one large IT company. Their database was running perfectly; then they decided to do a Black Friday promotion. The IT company did a big marketing push that proved to be enormously successful. Well over a million customers came online that day, which was brilliant until their database came to a grinding halt.
Here was the biggest, most successful marketing campaign in the history of the company. The call center was generating hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute at the peak of their Black Friday promotion. But, the second that database went down, it had a direct, quantifiable impact.
Unreliable databases can make or break a business. Therefore, the people who keep these databases healthy have a direct impact on the business’s bottom line. DBAs, developers, and other custodians of data within the enterprise must be able to articulate the value of their roles and the value of their activity in dollars and cents. This is particularly relevant when they are looking for support for new projects or cash to fund them.
You could go to your boss and say, "Listen, could I have some tooling here?” or “Can I switch databases? I think this other one is going to be more productive." And your boss might even like that idea, but they've got to get sign-off from somebody in finance. The finance people are going to want answers to questions like:
- How is this going to save money for the business?
- How is it going to generate more money for the business?
- How does it reduce risk in terms of saving or making money?
- In the case of regulated industries, how is it going to reduce the risk of noncompliance?
This is where your KPIs come in.
Availability: If the availability of a call center or sales database is dropping, be specific about the financial impact on the business. Quantifying the loss of dollars in seconds or hours will make the issue more tangible for the decision makers.
Resolution time: Every second you can take off of your resolution time is going to have a direct effect on how much money is saved or lost during an outage.
System response time: Your databases have a big impact on response times. Excessive wait time to pull a report or slow page loading on an e-commerce site is sure to hurt business.
Putting a dollar amount on problems that you, as a DBA, can prevent given the right tools and resources will not only convince the necessary people to fund your projects but also illustrate the value of your role in the organization.
The DBA’s Role in the Cloud
We frequently hear DBAs worrying that their organizations are moving workloads into the cloud and switching to a database-as-a-service platform. These managed services handle many of the tasks that a DBA might traditionally do, such as keeping databases up to date and backing up data.
But DBAs can also view the move to the cloud as an additional opportunity to demonstrate value to the organization. Moving to the cloud creates the new task of managing the costs of these platforms as a service. If I improve the performance of my database and I use fewer resources—for example, burning fewer DTUs in Azure—that has an implicit, monthly impact on the cost.
Similarly, if the company is moving to a new platform, someone has to evaluate the wisdom of that move. Some DBAs have become database experts and may not call themselves DBAs anymore. They might call themselves data engineers, but it doesn't really matter—they're the same people. These DBAs use their expertise to evaluate how difficult it is to migrate from one system to another. They examine the cost implications, how to optimize the migration to reduce costs, and how to configure the new system to increase availability.
For example, when Quest built Spotlight Cloud, at the back end, we decided to use Azure SQL DB. Then we decided to migrate to Cosmos DB, which meant someone with database expertise had to evaluate whether that was a good move based on getting greater performance, improved availability, and cost savings.
If you're building a SaaS application rather than an on-premises application, the development environment changes dramatically, or at least the nature of its usage changes. When you build an on-premises tool, you look at the performance of that database in the context of a single server it's running on and a single environment it's in. So let's say you have 20 users and 20 databases—you've got a quantifiable scope across which to measure your performance.
Now put that into a SaaS environment. Potentially thousands of users across tens of thousands of instances are being monitored at any one particular point in time. Any of those users could be logging on at any moment. So now, all of a sudden, you have to address a completely different spectrum of performance.
So, sure, the role of DBA is changing, but it has become no less significant and no less impactful on the business. In fact, the more organizations delve into the cloud, the more critical DBAs become, particular in bringing it back to articulating value.
When a DBA can demonstrate cost savings per second, per compute cycle, and per gigabyte of storage used every single month, suddenly, the CFO is sitting up and taking notice of the DBAs in a good way.