April 19


Which is best – DBA or use Managed SQL Service?

By Charles

April 19, 2016

[h2_heading]Hire a DBA or use Managed SQL Service[/h2_heading]

Reaching the point of having to decide if you need to hire a DBA (Database Administrator) or use a managed SQL service shows two things. 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.

There are pros and cons to both options but I hope to provide a balanced view to help you find out what will best serve your needs. All businesses are of course different so you will need to look at your own needs and judge which you think is a better fit for yourself. So hire a DBA or use Managed SQL Service lets start by taking a look at what they both give you.

[h3_heading]What do you get when you hire a DBA?[/h3_heading]

DBA’s are guardians of your data. We spend a lot of time saying no to requests to access a live system in order to protect the availability of your most precious applications.

  • Backups and restores – 40% of our time is spent managing backups and restores. Full differential and Log backups all need to be completed as required and checked daily. Seems like a lot and it is but we are talking about 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. Literally your business in a backup file.
  • Security – we are gatekeepers, keeping out those that do not need access and allowing those that do the ability to view and report on KPI’s.
  • Maintenance – updating statistics and indexes, keeping applications running smoothly. Every application stores data and we make sure it takes less time to run a report whilst allowing multiple concurrent users to enter new orders and make changes.
  • Hours – obviously you get the DBA’s skills for approx. 40 hours a week plus any overtime for out of hours emergencies.
  • Cost – £35,000 to £55,000 outside of London depending on experience. Everyone can do the day to day stuff but a DBA really 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 but we live in the real world and planning for redundancy does reach a cost vs benefit point where to save a large amount of money is worth the little bit of down time.
  • Training – there is an ongoing cost for keeping your staff trained and you will also need to have someone to cover when they are on training or on holiday. That could be around six weeks of cover needed every year so the cost will add up.

[h3_heading]What do you get when you use a managed SQL service?[/h3_heading]

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

One quick and dirty metric I use is do I have 40 hours of work for this individual to do every single week? If the answer to that is a big no then it is going to 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 bit of a grey area between which is best for either situation and which is more cost effective. It might simply come down to the current size of your business. If you have a small business with only one application using a SQL back end then it might not be worth hiring a full time DBA. 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 DBA’s to monitor, maintain and jump in to action in the case of an emergency.

If you are a very large company then the chances are you will need at least one DBA, probably two but in very large cases a team of three will be needed. 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 that have large SQL estates such as several clusters or if you are using enterprise level features on your estate. You also get the benefit of the more experienced DBA’s training the Junior level DBA’s so 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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