DBAs and the Internet of Things

June 9, 2015

Ever since data moved to the cloud, database administrators have wondered what it will mean for their jobs.

It doesn’t matter whether you are thinking about Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Database as a Service, there is some aspect of what a database administrator does that may not exist in the future.

And then there’s the situation around Big Data, and the Internet of Things. We see videos of how organisations are using devices that produce data to help control things as large as the London Underground, and as personal as your fitness routine. It doesn’t matter whether the Thing is recording your heart beat or the vibrations of a tube train – the fact is that data is being produced to help our lives.

For a database administrator, this present a new set of concerns. Does the DBA of today need to be able to design and tune a system that leverages Windows Azure SQL Database? What about Parallel Data Warehouse? Hadoop? Apache Storm? StreamInsight? There are so many things that make it seem to the DBA that their skill set must adapt for them to survive.

But what I want to suggest is that the DBA should not be seeing these technologies as their domain to administer and tune, but their domain to consume and leverage.

Currently, database administrators in the SQL Server world use Performance Monitor counters to keep an eye on how disk, CPU, I/O, RAM, cache, etc., etc., are going. This data is polled regularly and stored, while SQL Server Agent alerts are configured to holler if there’s something noteworthy, such as a Transaction Log filling up. Extended Events allow all kinds of events to be monitored, with data about them examined, stored if necessary, reacted to, and more.

Once, we used SQL Server Trace, and a tool called Profiler. Profiler was frowned upon somewhat – its veracity for consuming data meant that using it to run a trace live would put an unnecessary load on the SQL instance being monitored. The better option was to configure a trace, and then use Profiler after the fact to see what was happening. Extended Events (XE) is seen in a different kind of light. An XE session runs, keeping an eye on things in a very decoupled way, and the stream of events that is produced can be hooked into using a number of different methods.

From the perspective of the DBA, these XE sessions become an “Internet of Things”-style environment. Imagine that each configured event is a smart device, sitting somewhere, producing data in some semi-structured form. Of course, we know the structure, but each event might have a different configuration, with different kinds of properties being available. The DBA consumes them using the same mechanisms as IoT technologies, and suddenly becomes a new kind of DBA-superhero. It’s not unheard of today, to hear of people looking after large numbers of databases.

The Internet of Things is here for database administrators. Extended Events are part of it.


PS: This post about Extended Events is part of the latest T-SQL Tuesday event, hosted by my friend Jes Borland (@grrl_geek).


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Uri Dimant

    Hi Rob
    Thank you for this subject. Actually, MS tells us that after we move into Azure we (the MS) will maintain the database  and you as a DBA just look after something unusual happens to the database. I am not sure many companies willing to move the production to the Azure as MS changes/adds/extends many features to and all this makes difficult to the management to make a final decision (From my experience talking with the managers). There are many other database platforms  like you mentioned Hadoop, MongoDB and etc, and see here that small-middle business want to use/adopt them as a DB platform.I am seriously looking into the matter to start learning them  and not because I am afraid of my job being a DBA but as in my opinion those db platforms will expand in the near feature.
    What do you think about it?

  2. Rob Farley

    Yes – I think the job of maintaining databases will continue to change. But I also think that DBAs should seek to leverage new technologies to monitor their systems, meaning that they can then look after more than they ever did. On-prem systems will still need monitoring (to a degree), and there will still be some tasks that are needed in the cloud as well. But DBAs should be consuming that data, not seeing it as a threat.
    A pure DBA is rarely just that. Often they have a background in development or systems administration, and have a bit of curiosity towards Business Intelligence and Analytics. They are more like Data Professionals than Database Professionals, and should treat the ‘new world of data’ as an opportunity to improve the way they do their own jobs, not just everyone else’s.

  3. Uri Dimant

    Thank you Rob.

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