DBA or Managed SQL Service – Which Is Best?

By Charles

April 19, 2016

DBA, Dbaas, managed instances, SQL, sql server

Should You Hire a DBA or use Managed SQL Service?

Reaching the point of deciding if you need to hire a DBA (Database Administrator) or use a managed SQL service shows that you realise how important your data is to your business and that you are clued up to find the right balance between cost and quality of service needed.

All businesses are different, so you will need to look at your own needs and judge which you think is a better fit for you.

So, should you hire a DBA or use Managed SQL? Both options have pros and cons, but I hope to provide a balanced view to help you determine what will best serve your needs.

Let’s look at what DBAs and managed SQL services give you.

What do you get when you hire a DBA?

DBAs are guardians of your data. We spend a lot of time saying no to requests to access a live system to protect the availability of your most special applications.

Backups and restores

40% of our time is spent managing backups and restores. Full differential and Log backups must be completed as required and checked daily. It seems like a lot, but we are discussing your data here.

Your past and current customers, including any issues they have experienced and what and when they bought from you. Your prospective customers and revenue pipeline. Your business is in a backup file.


We are gatekeepers, keeping out those who do not need access and allowing those who can view and report on KPIs.


They are updating statistics and indexes, keeping applications running smoothly. Every application stores data, and we ensure it takes less time to run a report whilst allowing multiple concurrent users to enter new orders and make changes.


You get the DBA’s skills for approximately 40 hours a week plus any overtime for out-of-hours emergencies.


£35,000 to £55,000 outside of London, depending on experience. Everyone can do the day-to-day stuff, but a DBA shows their worth in an emergency.

You might think that emergencies shouldn’t happen, and whilst that might be true, they still do; just as cars should not break down if you treat them well, servers should not fail.

Still, we live in the real world and planning for redundancy does reach a cost vs benefit point where saving a large amount of money is worth the little downtime.


Training is an ongoing cost for keeping your staff trained, and you will also need someone to cover when they are on training or holiday. That could be around six weeks of required coverage yearly to add up the cost.

What do you get when you use a managed SQL service?

  • All of the above are delivered as a service but for a significantly reduced monthly cost.
  • No training costs are the responsibility of the Managed SQL Service company.
  • No holiday cover is needed. This is also their responsibility.

One quick and dirty metric I use is, do I have 40 hours of work for this individual every week? If the answer to that is a big no, it will be more cost-effective to outsource the work to a Managed SQL Service.

Do I have systems that require a very specialised skill set? If yes, then a DBA with experience in that application might be more appropriate for your company, even with the higher cost.

This would depend more on how critical that application is to your business and what the cost of the downtime would add up to.

There is a grey area between the best for either situation and the more cost-effective one. It might not be worth hiring a full-time DBA if you have a small business with only one application using a SQL back end. It might simply come down to the current size of your business.

You might be able to get away with a Junior DBA, but they might need to juggle the database stuff with some other IT duties to justify the cost; otherwise, the Managed SQL Service is probably your best bet as you will have a team of experienced DBAs to monitor, maintain and jump into action in the case of an emergency.

If you are a huge company, then the chances are you will need at least one DBA, probably two, but in huge cases, a team of three will be required. Most likely comprised of a Junior DBA, a DBA and a Senior DBA.

This covers you for holidays and training but will only work for companies with large SQL estates, such as several clusters, or if you are using enterprise-level features on your estate.

You also benefit from the more experienced DBAs training the Junior level DBA; in the event of someone retiring or leaving to go to another job role, you still have trained people experienced with your systems.


About the author

Microsoft Certified SQL Server DBA with over a decades experience including work for large FTSE 250 companies amongst others. The SQL Server stack has been the focus of almost all of my career in IT. I have experience designing, supporting and troubleshooting large Data Platform deployments.

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