Why DBAs Need Networking Skills

With the rise of cloud, database administrators need to understand basic networking in order to be truly effective.

Thomas LaRock

September 9, 2016

5 Min Read
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The cloud threatens everyone. Well, to be clear, the cloud threatens everyone who sees change as something to be feared. I tend to view change as an opportunity, not as a threat. 

For today’s database administrators (DBAs), the adoption rate of hybrid IT is a concern. Hybrid IT represents change, and most DBAs don’t like change. They like things to stay the same, for as long as possible.

When I see the fear in the eyes of a DBA upon hearing the word “cloud” I do my best to break it down into smaller bits for them to digest. Here are the two points I emphasize:

  1. The primary responsibilities for a modern DBA, or what might be called a cloud DBA—data recovery, data security, and database performance—remain the same as the traditional DBA. While the integration of cloud services and distributed applications has introduced a greater level of complexity and potential challenges, the core missions remain: DBAs must be able to recover and protect the company’s data, and at the same time provide reliable performance.

  2. It's no longer sufficient for DBAs to be proficient in only one area of technology (i.e., the database). The rate of change in the data center is accelerating and database professionals must adapt. The interconnected nature of the modern data center, coupled with the thousands of services technology vendors can provide, requires cloud DBAs know basic networking skills like configuring VPNs, virtual networks, topologies, and network troubleshooting in order to be truly effective in their role.

The ease of use for public cloud services such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure has created a “borderless” IT environment where traditional data management methods no longer provide the visibility and level of information needed to deliver on end users’ high expectations. In the not so distant future, cloud DBAs must be able to determine when a problem is related to the network, whether it's one they own or the network of a cloud services provider.

Most traditional DBAs have little to no experience with network administration, so it can be difficult for them to understand why such skills are necessary. Remember, cloud DBAs still have the same responsibilities, with data recovery being first and foremost. If an organization moves databases to the cloud, DBAs must make sure they’ll be able to recover the company’s data and  access it when needed. The network, of course, is the primary conduit for doing just that. Thus, issues such as network bandwidth and latency become data recovery and accessibility issues.

When a problem arises, cloud DBAs with an understanding of network management practices and the right tools can start with a traffic analysis, looking at how much is really data traffic and how much might just be bogged down by Pokémon Go enthusiasts, and then troubleshoot from there.

Of course concerns about data security will always be present. Cloud DBAs need to also understand how users are accessing and consuming data. That will require them to have a broad knowledge of how data is handled in transmission, in addition to an idea of how all the systems are networked together and interconnected.

Bridging the gap

Of course, even the most basic of networking skills will take time to learn and cultivate. Here are some simple best practices that will help DBAs progress down the path to becoming cloud DBAs, capable of bridging the hybrid IT gap:

  • Be mindful of change. Today, software updates are released at an unprecedented rate, with new bits often coming out every two or three months. A cloud DBA needs to think critically about these changes as well as other trends in the IT landscape, constantly asking, “Is this something we can take advantage of? If so, is it the right choice or are there other options out there?” The ultimate objective has to be the best overall experience for the business and customers.

  • The devil is in the (network’s) details. A query that might take seconds to run on-premises could take over a minute in the cloud due to a number of factors, not the least of which could be network performance issues. Therefore, it’s important for cloud DBAs to understand how data traverses networks and consider other possibilities, like network latency, as an initial culprit of cloud database performance issues, rather than the default “heavy data traffic.”

  • The more visibility, the better. In the hybrid IT age, management tools like visual network path monitoring can help the DBA regain much of the visibility lost in the move to the cloud. These technologies allow not just the simplified detection of issues in internal networks, but also extend troubleshooting through the internet and into service providers’ networks. .

  • A single viewpoint. Cloud DBAs need comprehensive management tools that provide a single dashboard of performance and the ability to drill down across database technologies and across deployment methods, including cloud. This will ensure organizations aren’t wasting valuable budget chasing down a database performance problem with the wrong solution.

Success as a cloud DBA rests on better understanding the complete set of data center technologies and operations, not just the database. This is especially true when it comes to the part networks play. Do cloud DBAs need to know every router and modem that the transmission of their data relies on? No, probably not. But a successful cloud DBA will have a solid understanding of the broader set of interconnected technologies that make up the complete data center, how data is getting from one point to another, and a baseline to help identify when performance is normal and when it’s not.

Remember, kids, the cloud isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity.

About the Author(s)

Thomas LaRock

Head Geek, SolarWinds

As a Head Geek for SolarWinds, Thomas works with a variety of customers to help solve problems regarding database performance tuning and virtualization. He has over 15 years of IT experience, holding various roles such as programmer, developer, analyst and database administrator. Thomas joined SolarWinds through the acquisition of Confio Software, where he was a technical evangelist. He also serves on theBoard of Directorsfor theProfessional Association for SQL Server. Thomas is an avid blogger and the author of DBA Survivor: Become a Rock Star DBA, a book designed to give a junior to mid-level DBA a better understanding of what skills are needed in order to survive (and thrive) in their career. He is a Microsoft Certified Master, SQL Server MVP and holds a MS in Mathematics from Washington State University as well as a BA in Mathematics from Merrimack College.

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