Your next skillset – it’s not IT

Until recently, if you wanted to work on your professional development as IT worker, you only had to follow the certification path of your vendor. After all, it are the hardcore skills that will land you on your new job.

Certifications, combined with experience, are enough for a successful career. What more do you need? Of course, as your skills improve, you’re steering into the category where ‘consulting skills’ and soft skills are required. Good communication increases your effectiveness. We are all familiar with the examples of IT professionals who certainly make a valuable contribution to the team, but who you would rather not send to a customer. Fine craftsman, but keep him indoors.

But if you want to grow as a professional, how to do this? What if an extra certificate does not help you further in your career, but you encounter roadblocks of a different kind? For some of these, there are well-known selfhelp books, such as Getting Things Done or The seven habits of highly effective people. There are also many webcasts training programs aimed at social and communication skills. These can offer eye-openers, but they also have their limitations. They do not know your situation, do not know your company culture, your character, the local cultural chemistry, politics and hidden agendas. You have to sharpen your skills through osmosis and there’s no dialog at all.

This problem has grown significantly in recent years, at least for me. With the cloud, many new technologies have come within reach, companies are being disrupted or trying to stay ahead of this with a digital transformation, and the role of the DBA is being redefined. These three developments have their own development speed at every company, and this can lead to substantial growing pains. Even within a company, people dwell on different parts of the hype cycle. This causes me substantial problems for me.

Personal guidance is indispensable, but how to obtain it? Asking for help and feedback from the actors around you can be difficult, especially when there’s a strong political environment, or when there simply aren’t available conversation partners available. A few leading IT people are trying to show us the way here. Brent Ozar has his Level 500 Guide to Career Internals. It’s a webcast, so the communication is still a one-way street. An other interesting offer came from Paul Randal: Personal Guidance by Email.

Having a well-informed discussion partner in this rapidly changing world is invaluable. When technical challenges are no longer real challenges and you have to determine your position in these volatile times, personal mentorship is the thing that can make the difference. Let’s hope more mentors will rise to this demand.

Becoming a cloud DBA (II)

Cost driven cloud movements

One of the advantages of the cloud is that it offers a build or buy decision for your database infrastructure. For some companies, stuck with legacy systems and outdated hardware, the prospect of a greenfield deployment seems very appealing. Let’s get rid of the old junk, let’s enter the rocky road of transformation, possibly under the supervision of a third party – for advice or eventual blame gaming.

It’s true that you can get into the cloud like this and save money, but the same forces of mismanagement that created the ‘old junk’ are still present when moving to the cloud. And mismanagement in the cloud can be a costly ‘learning experience’. Or looking at it from the other way, the better you are in control, the less appealing the cloud is money wise. For example, DropBox started initially on Amazon, but decided it was better off building its own infrastructure, saving $75 million over two years. That’s the tongue in cheek observation aka paradox: the better you are onpremis, the less the cloud has to offer. And the more the cloud has to offer, the less you can take advantage of it.

Furthermore, the law of conservation of misery dictates the presence of at least some disadvantages, and the cloud is not an exception. Clouds can go down for a several hours in high profile incidents, questioning the promised uptimes. Or they can suffer from capacity problems, as some reported that “azure seems to be full“. But apart from the Single Point of Failure problem, some databases will run into problems in the cloud and are exported back to the on-premise machines, a move called repatriation. The reason of such repatriation can be both costs or technical reasons. As an example of the latter: the cloud can prone to the Noisy Neighbor effect, and certain workloads won’t cope well with this. Or the network latency to the cloud is prohibitive for certain applications.
Surely this can be remedied in a more expensive tier in the cloud, but the on-premis datacenter comes in scope again when the ROI of these solutions are calculated.

Gartner puts it this way: “What remains on-premises are business processes that are mission-critical and require greater oversight and more detailed levels of control than is available via cloud infrastructure and hosted models.

So, what’s the DBA role here?

If money is the main motivator, then TCO calculations are on your tasklist. For you as a DBA it revolves around data placement strategy, and there’s a whole information war about the TCO costs involved. “Microsofts cost comparisons are misleading” says this article from Amazon ( “Fact-checking the truth on TCO for running Windows workloads in the cloud”). Or have a look at Amazons TCO calculator. Just simply insert the number of vCPU and memory and the cost comparison can be made. A total omission of the virtual/physical ration of CPU’s is apparent missing vital element. Be prepared to face a lot of TCO gaming out there, so be sure to understand the revenue model of your cloud vendor.

You need to be able to measure how much bang do you actually get for your buck in the cloud. As I showed in one of my previous post, a lot of DBA’s are not impressed with the cloud performance. Therefore, your second task in this will be Benchmarking the Cloud. This can be a science on its own, but you may suffice by capturing and replaying a workload with the open source toolset WorkLoad Tools of which I’ll post some of my testresults in a later post. Be adviced that, apart from capacity measuring of the cloud, latency may also play a role in your application. If you need to go deeper into benchmarking than a replay, you’re into serious readings such as this one.


The Cloud is just someone else’s computer” – and this surely rings true in this scenario. Money is the main motivator, so making TCO calculations and benchmarks is on your tasklist. As most companies will have a hybrid cloud/onprem environment, you therefor need to be able to advice where to place the workloads. And be advised that capacity planning is different too. In the onprem scenario, you can calculate your capacity requirements every few years and take some healthy overcapacity into the mix. Compare that to the cloud you’ll have to revise the capacity every few month depending on the volatility of your environment. You may want to automate the reports of the resourceconsumption in the cloud, so hone your skills in Powershell/ PowerBI/ Bash or any of your favorite scripting tool. Tasks to be automated are on their way to you.

Becoming a cloud DBA (I)

rule 1: Know why your company goes to the cloud

The cloud is going to change the role of the DBA“. That message is omnipresent in webcasts, conferences and perhaps at your company as well. It is presented as the big gamechanger, making you move up in the valuechain and leave behind the chores of patching, setting up high availability systems or writing backup strategies. Or will it?

There are a few changes in the DBA roles and tasks for sure, but to which extend depends on several factors. As you may have noticed, the role of the DBA is very broad and every company has his own boundaries of responsibilities for the DBA. The cloud won’t change that, but still there are some main roads laid out for you. An important one is the motivation of your company to go to the cloud. For simplicity, I will consider two basic reasons. The first is the idea that the costs of the cloud is lower than the onpremis machines.

Some companies are stuck with old and deprecated hardware and stuffed datacenters, and therefor look forward to happily leave the legacy behind and enjoy the CAPEX model. (That is, pay as you go with no upfront hardware costs). As their datacenters are maxed out with hardware that has exceeded its economical life, the cloud presents itself as an easy way out without costly transformation costs.
The second main reason is more organizational one: the struggling company is stuck with many political trench lines that run through the IT department, with Windows Admins, Network Admins, DBA and developers as the warring factions in an ongoing trench-war.
How wonderful wouldn’t it be if all the infrastructure is maintained by a single someone else? Some place where all the infrastructure is available with a few clicks on a button and all political lines are redefined? It exists, is the cloud! Yes, this cloud promises to be the crowbar that gets organizational changes done.

Of course there are other reasons to go to the cloud. For example, several companies fear a disruptive digital innovation on their market and they realise that their IT department needs to switch from a business supporting role to a business driving one. But for the sake of simplicity (and for the focus on the DBA role) I will only look at the two aforementioned reasons to go to the cloud which i will dub: “lower costs” or “vision”.

It is important for the DBA to know in which of these two settings (s)he is, as this will determine the tasks and skills that are needed. We’ll have a look at these different roles of both scenario’s in later posts.

Apart from the cost factor, there is an other element that influences the DBA role, and that is whether you have paying customers – internal or external – or not. For example, an internal customer is a different department in your company, such as the Business Intelligence team who can buy more horsepower for their data warehouse from you. Or you have external customers, much like the cloudvendors themselves. Anyway, if you do have paying customers, you’re a cloud reseller and buy the resources to create your portfolio. Alternatively, if you haven’t got paying customers but instead need to service the database needs with a fixed budget, this will reflect on your choices and tasks in the cloud.

In the coming posts, we’ll see how.

Continue at Part II: Cost Driven Cloud Movements

What I do better than the cloud

MSsql guru Brent Ozar asked an interesting question to the DBA’s in one of his blogs:

what do you think you do better than the cloud?

It’s a good question and lies at the heart of the transformation of production DBA to cloud DBA. Where does the cloud fall short and where can the DBA make a difference? What is the place of the cloud DBA and where can he add the extra value?

Some of the respondents took the liberty to discuss the shortcomings of the cloud as the difference between hype and reality became obvious to them, so the answers also give an insight of what issue’s are encountered by DBA’s who work with cloud technologies.

The majority of remarks was about performance and costcontrol. On the third place came ‘nothing’ as what they could do better. Further down the rank were the lower systemvisibility, security concerns, support quality and so on.

As for performance, all the DBA’s are not impressed : “..our local data center blows Azure out of the water.” It seems that the virtual CPU / physical CPU ratio isn’t as good in the cloud as they are on premise. In your own datacenter you can check this ratio and correct any over-commitment but in the cloud you’re stuck with what you’re given. Of course you can buy yourself extra performance to the equivalent of your large onpremise machine, but the costs quickly become prohibitive. It is for this very reason that performance management is an area where the cloud DBA can save money. As Brent Ozar was told in a conversation with a CTO:

” ..the CTO told me, “I thought I’d save money in the cloud by not having a DBA, but what I’m learning is that in the cloud, I actually get a return on my DBA investments.

On the second place is cost management. As one respondent noted: “Make a plan on prem and run with it for 5 years. Make a plan in the cloud and you are revisiting it every 8-10 months“. There are indeed many moving parts: price structures can change, extra load may need the purchase of heavier machines and “constant resource usage monitoring and $$discussions” . From my experience, I agree with the comment “many people know too little about costs and paradigm shifts which make for some huge intangible but very real costs to just up and move“. And here is where the cloud DBA steps in.


So back to the question: What can the DBA’s do better than the cloud? From the potpourri of answers it seems that the DBA’s are in a position to evaluate cost/performance or ‘bang for the buck’. This is backed by studies in the field:

“Businesses increasingly rely on DBAs to help them understand the pricing implications and ROI of moving to the cloud.”

“… seasoned DBAs are seen as key influencers in the overall data management infrastructure and their input is sought for decisions such as when to move data to the cloud.”


The foregoing shows that the DBA in its new role of cloud data asset manager can have a lot of value, however it takes one crucial element to achieve it. And that is that the company realizes that costs are a design parameter. Without this, any cloud adventures may end up pretty costly. It’s the task of the DBA to convey this message.