Oracle DBA – A lifelong learning experience

What is the future for an Oracle DBA?

Posted by John Hallas on April 10, 2017

I have worked with Oracle databases for around 25 years now and during that time I have been very fortunate in that there has always been work for DBAs and it has been one of the higher paying disciplines within IT.

I am not prophesying the end of the Oracle database engine but I do see the writing on the wall for some of the large corporate solutions sitting on physical equipment in a datacentre. I also have to criticise Oracle for their business practises which I know are seeing customers move away to other solutions.

Without any doubt there is pressure on those who wish to perform a purely Oracle DBA role. The growing use of Cloud does reduce the opportunities and whilst databases always need to be built the techniques used in the Cloud undoubtedly speed up that process and effectively de-skill it. The rise of SAAS style applications where the on-site DBA no longer performs upgrades, patching and similar work also reduces the requirement.

In conjunction with that there is a threat from the more established players in the market. I manage database teams that support a variety of databases and a few years ago I undoubtedly had the view that Oracle was good for large databases (I might have considered 1Tb to be the dividing line between large and medium) and SQL Server was suitable for smaller ones. I am aware that is a very basic dividing line and does not take into account functionality and advanced database requirements. I do not have that view in the slightest now and consider that Oracle is too expensive and does not offer value for money. SQL Server is much higher in my focus and we now include MySQL (which I know is owned by Oracle) and also PostGres and DynamoDB.

I referred to business practises as being a reason not to use Oracle. I am specifically referring to the change in licensing for databases in the Cloud but not in the Oracle Cloud. See this article by Tim Hall for more detail.  The comments also support the theme of this blog – that there are many more alternatives to Oracle these days.

If I was starting out now I think I would be trying to go down the Data Architect road and also grabbing myself a good overview of the benefits and risks of the various types of database solutions that are now available. That skill set would also assist in becoming an infrastructure architect.

Saying all of the above – in my view there is nothing more satisfying than taking a query and improving its performance, no matter what the underlying database technology is.

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14 Responses to “What is the future for an Oracle DBA?”

  1. Peter Hitchman said

    Hi John,
    I think you missed out an intended link for Tim Hall’s article.

    I have been experiencing something similar. I am in a company that recently split out from another organization and we are starting to move systems out to the Cloud. At first Oracle was a dirty word and the wish to migrate away from it was being heavily pushed, with phrases like “more Cloud friendly solution” being thrown around. Then the reality set in of how much code there would be to change at the same time as moving out of various data centers and a license was agreed with Oracle. Also I happen to deal with a 25TB database that SAAS Cloud solutions so far have problems supporting. However I think that other database solutions will come into play here, PostGres especially looks favourite, although when I tried to push this a few years back I got no where.

    Thanks for posting.

    Pete

    • John Hallas said

      Thanks Peter, the link was in but then seemed to have disappeared. – reinstated

      Obviously some of my thoughts are based on experience at my current employer but they also reflect what friends and colleagues are saying as well.

      Thanks for replying

  2. oraclebase said

    Hi.

    Issues with business practices. +1
    Disruptive nature of of Cloud/SaaS. +1
    Threats from other products. +1 I’m not always sure Oracle understand just how good some of their competition is these days.
    Data Architect. +1 DBAs have a very wide reach now, so it is probably what most experienced DBAs will have to do if/when the DBA role dies. 🙂

    Cheers

    Tim…

  3. Rui Amaral said

    Hi John,

    this is a good wake up-call to the community. Oracle, as a dirty word, is part of the problem as you note. I do not think that the the Oracle db should be discounted however. All in all, feature by feature Oracle is still on top and I do not think the opensource or alternative databases can compare on that aspect. Not even the cloud provided versions com close. There are way too many problems with them to make them a viable solution yet (or ever – take for example this blog on redshift – https://blog.heapanalytics.com/redshift-pitfalls-avoid/). The fact that many are looking at simplifying deployments should cause many of the community to think about career paths – automation I think is where it will really change things. I do not think de-skill will be it – but certainly optimization of the deployed environments will be and that alone, I think, will be a huge challenge (there are just too many performance problems on cloud based environments to think automation is good “enough”)

    Having said that, personally, your suggestion about different career alternatives makes perfect sense and I one I have done myself. I think this is what we should be looking at in general.

    Thanks for the post

  4. Dom Brooks said

    Coming from the development side of the fence, I completely agree.

    Interestingly Oracle is not seen as too expensive because the site license and internal apportion of costs means that there is a significant internal charge for products with non-licensed software.

    But there is a double/triple whammy with Oracle is seen as too difficult, the optimizer too complex, support ineffective.
    And the local dbas tuning knowledge does not extend beyond a check box list which starts with are the stats “stale”.

    And I’m fed up with local audit policies which the dbas don’t resist but pass straight through like “cannot assign privileges to a schema directly, has to be via role” and “cannot use dbms_scheduler” which may have good intentions but ultimately mean I can’t write some code in plsql, better to use sql from java and I can’t use dbms_parallel_execute – better to do “threading” from the app – for no reason other than ignorance or misinformation/misguidance.

    • John Hallas said

      Wow – proper rant mode. I like it 🙂
      I hear where you are coming from – managing a large Data Warehouse where a change in plan can cause a job to overrun by several hours I am fed up of explaining to management that across our database estate the optimizer is probably making 100,000 choices a week and gets very few completely wrong.
      In many ways the Rule based method was much more predictable

      As a company who has a lot of stores we see some variance if a new store has been added but we also own manufacturing plants and if we add one of them in we see a significant change in plans as we might only have 5 and we add a sixth one in.

      • Dom Brooks said

        Aye… there’s a lot of pent up frustration currently.
        Personally, I’m trying to branch out more into cloud strategies and developing in angularjs and python, etc but it doesn’t stop me getting frustrated about my true love…

      • Dom Brooks said

        It might seem like the rant about policies is off topic but I see it as just other nails in the same long-term coffin for Oracle.

  5. Rob Horrocks said

    A lot of this is down to the licensing cost and structure which is probably the main reason SQL Server became more and more popular up until 2008, when Microsoft, for some crazy reason decided to inline their costs with Oracle and shot themselves in the foot.

    Now both Oracle and SQL Server have taken a huge hit in this area. Microsoft believe their answer is to force people to Azure as the cheaper option but they don’t seem to realise that not everyone is ready for cloud based solutions, and open source solutions still exist and are continuing to mature.

    I think Microsoft have also fallen into the trap of believing customers are stuck with what they have and feel they can squeeze everyone for the extra money but that’s not the case, and more and more customers are now looking for alternative solutions.

  6. John
    Interesting article [per usual] and not an uncommon discussion point in many of the companies I’ve consulted through.
    The “death of the DBA role” has been prophesized for many years now, in fact Oracle 9i was pumped as the “shrink wrapped DB solution” to allow non-techs run databases and we all know how well that worked out for organisations who tried to go it alone with inexperienced tech people.
    The main thing I’ve noticed on my adventures with Oracle [7.1 onwards] is that the more that people believe the sales hype and try to simplify these processes, the more technical the solution underneath needs to be – “all things to all people” is a hard trick to pull off. If all applications were generic running on a vanilla patch level with predictable IO requirements along with consistent requirements, then SaaS/DaaS is an ideal solution SO long as all security requirements and performance spikes are handled within the vanilla options and limits these offerings work are limited by.
    Move to a more “organic” flow of larger enterprise requirements and suddenly the SaaS/DaaS becomes slightly less of an obvious choice and then mix in the licencing costs and reusability of licences [Dev v Test v Perf v UAT v OAT v Prod V DR] and suddenly the choice isn’t so clear cut. If you then look at environments held to higher security standards [think government or fintech/trading, etc] and escalated costs of the models above, then you are back at the “horses for courses” point.
    Oracle’s strength/weakness is that it provides to a wide range of requirements above a certain price point for its Enterprise solution. Under that price point [or near it] then other solutions start to bear fruit esp when functionality costs [partitioning, encryption, etc.] are explained to business owners. Solutions such as SQL Server, MySQL, Hadoop, MongoDB, MariaDB, NoSQL, etc all suddenly start fitting niches that the larger Enterprise solution is too expensive for. Once you compare these to Oracle Standard Edition then suddenly the cost factors are closer so you start looking at the other costs associated with DB ownership –resilience, reliability but primarily SUPPORT. If your first line of support is google/forum/occasionally manned ticket desks/etc then suddenly your cost saving on licencing needs to seriously be weighed up for the cost of outage duration that may be involved when there is no P1 support available 24/7.
    I’m not saying Oracle doesn’t have its fault and I’m in no way a fanbois – I’ve experience in a wide range of industries and small to large companies where Oracle hasn’t been the DB of choice for a variety of reasons – but it is the market leader for a reason. Oracle’s product choices offered along with the support tiers available make it a smart choice for Enterprise class service – I avoid using the term “large database” as that can be exceedingly misleading as I remember 50Gb being considered a large database and now 200Tb considered a reasonable sized data warehouse. The main thing is that over the last 20+ years, every time a major player in software has dominated a market, it left niche players room to get established and grow, forcing the majors to either up their game or fall by the wayside. In all of this, technical people were needed and whilst demand hit peaks and troughs, data management was always needed and as such, the DBA role was always required.
    In the 1990’s the DBA role was mainly command line driven with crontab type entries used to schedule routine tasks. Roll forward 20+ years and even before Cloud, the DBA role requires the candidate to understand application layer interactions as well as web tier implications for data security, role based access and how this all can be driven through a GUI as well as command line.
    In summation, I think that whilst more generic interfaces and generic task management will be prevalent, the ability for a DBA to involve themselves at the technical ground level and deal with the unexpected results from rapidly changing software, will leave any organisation deploying enterprise class solutions with a mandatory requirement for appropriately skilled DBAs. If only from a risk mitigation side of the equation, having the ability to know when a vendor is pulling the wool over your eyes will still be as critical in 20 years as it was 20 years ago.
    Cheers
    Martin

    • John Hallas said

      What a well put together response Martin. I am very tempted to dedicate my next blog entry to looking at what you have said in more detail.

  7. Manoj Gorai said

    Hi John,

    This is really nice post and i would like to follow your post.

    Regards,
    Manoj

  8. Dave said

    Great post and discussion, John! My client has continued to push away from Oracle solutions due to licensing costs, as like so many others. We’ve trying AWS, Hadoop, MongoDB, pretty much anything that might work for a particular solution which would save on licensing costs.

    For the bigger corporations/IT departments, I expect that what will happen is a “near” conversion to another DBMS, rarely a full, organization-wide conversion. It’s just too hard and rarely cost effective to do this for everything. I’ve seen this over and over. How many people out there are tons of 12c installations yet have a few 10g or 9i stragglers? We have 4 x 12c OEM environments yet 2 more 11g. Why? Because we have x number of applications on 10g / 9i running RHEL4.6 or earlier that we can’t convince to even upgrade the OS so we can install a 12c agent.

    Another thing that comes to mind goes back to those of us being in the IT workforce for long periods of time. You end up seeing patterns over and over and you know that eventually the industry will “correct” itself. In the late 80’s / early 90’s there was a huge push to everything being client-server, no more big iron. Then managing all those small to mid-sized hosts didn’t fit the bill and the market opened up for Starfire (Sun) and Wildfire (DEC) machines. Then it went back to smaller hosts. Then it was bigger solutions with large clusters. Now cloud with huge resources. Nearly all of those change in solutions were about licensing costs. The thing is, it’s not like suddenly everything is going to find some secret way to avoid licensing costs and vendors will never realize this. That will all correct itself.

    Just my non-specific, fluffy, generalized opinion.

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