The Cloud : They took our jobs!


The title is of course inspired by “They took our jobs!” from South Park.

I’ve been doing some cloud-related talks recently and a pretty regular question is, “How is this going to affect my job as a [DBA | Sysadmin]?”

My answers usually include some of the following points.

  • Back in the old days, we used to spend hours obsessing about redo and rollback/undo and sizing of the individual parts that make up the SGA and PGA. Keeping on top of some of this stuff was a full time job, even for a small number of databases. Over time Oracle have added loads of automated features that mean we don’t have to worry about this stuff for “most” of our databases. So that means less DBAs right? Not really. We are just expected to cope with a lot more stuff now. Rather than looking after 3 databases, we look after hundreds or thousands.
  • For Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the cloud is just a basic hosting company. You are still responsible for all system administration and database administration. A move to IaaS doesn’t affect jobs at all. If anything, it probably adds to the demand.
  • For Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, like Database as a Service (DBaaS), things may be different. Your level of interaction with the OS and database varies depending on the vendor, but in some cases, you will have zero access to the OS, so there is no system administration, and the level of control over the database is limited. Surely that affects jobs? Well, once again, this has just made life easier, so your company can do more stuff and you will probably be expected to do more.
  • As far as Software as a Service (SaaS) is concerned, as a customer there is no access to the infrastructure, so there is no DBA or sysadmin work. If you want to look after the guts of Fusion Apps what’s wrong with you get a job with Oracle. 🙂 Even if you don’t have access to the guts of the SaaS system, you are still going to spend a lot of time designing systems to interact with it!
  • The cloud means I no longer have to install operating systems and databases! Well, sometimes I really enjoy doing donkey work, but if you’ve not automated most of this stuff, you are really living in the dark ages. If you have automated it already, then the cloud isn’t really any different to what you are doing now.
  • What the cloud will not do is understand your custom applications and provide the skills needed to diagnose problems and advise on solutions. All the interactions with your developers and support folks will still be necessary. I can’t see a cloud service helping with this sort of stuff ever. The role of a development DBA and the crossover between functional and technical knowledge is actually far more valuable than being able to install a bit of software.

There is no doubt the cloud will affect what we as DBAs and system administrators do, but our jobs have been constantly evolving over the last couple of decades I’ve been involved in IT. As Francisco said recently, “These days, DBA stands for Database Architect”, which I think is kind-of true. A decade ago I just did Oracle databases. Now I do Oracle, SQL Server and MySQL databases. I look after WebLogic, Tomcat, IIS and Apache App/Web servers. I’m helping to set up load balancers. I get involved in infrastructure projects for applications and middleware. It’s not that I’m awesome at any of this stuff, but as a DBA and/or system administrator you get exposed to so much, which makes you an ideal resource to help with this architectural stuff.

If you think a DBA just installs Oracle, creates databases and checks backups, your job will be gone soon. If you are a system administrator that just installs operating systems and does patches, your job will be gone soon. These are trivial tasks that anyone can learn in a few weeks, so you should hardly be surprised they can be automated out of existence. If instead you concentrate on the skills where you add true value to your company, you will be in demand for a long time!

I know it’s a bit of a random post, but I hope you can see where I’m coming from! 🙂



Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

3 thoughts on “The Cloud : They took our jobs!”

  1. I’m struggling real hard to see how does one automate searching through MOS to find the latest patches that work well with a new release… And how the necessary mental process of selection can be “automated”.
    Yeah, yeah, we all heard about how Grid Control simplifies all that. Please, spare me…
    If I had a dollar for every time in the last 25 years someone has said : “your job will be gone soon” I’d now be as rich as Donald and likely having a go at the US presidency!
    Unfortunately, one of the things that has been a constant in my professional Database Administrator life (why do people insist on using DB as an acronym for the word Database? When was the last time anyone wrote Data Base instead?) has been the total lack of any automation in the Oracle installs – and MSSQL, and Postgres, and DB2, etcetcetc.
    That is: if you want to install something that is reliable and works without breaking every 5 minutes.
    If all you want is to get something ticking for a while, then automation might work. Unfortunately, reality seems to creep on that one without fail…

  2. Noons:

    I was very specific about the type of jobs that I believe will not exist. Basic install-monkeys are not required any more. Lots of people automate these tasks successfully.

    Oracle have provided silent installations using OUI and silent database creations using DBCA for a long time. There is no difference to what you do by hand, but it is silent and can be put into an orchestration. Likewise, patches can be scripted. All this can be done in a repeatable fashion, such that you get a consistent result every time.

    If you are using virtualization, you can build a gold image once and redeploy. Very simple and pretty much what the cloud vendors do for Oracle, MySQL and MS SQL Server.

    I understand your point about identifying the patches to apply being a pain. This is even more validation of the cloud argument. Why should every company employ someone to do this when someone like Amazon (or Oracle) provide consistent releases on the cloud, with automated patching if desired. I would rather let them do the donkey work and focus on where you can add value.

    I think it’s easy for many of us to lose sight of where we can add the most value.



  3. Sure. But quite frankly any assumption that because Oracle or Amazon is handling the cloud “cloning” it is by definition perfect is simply not confirmed by reality.
    I’ve lost count of the myriad little issues that two of our cloud dbs have shown, precisely because they had not been installed from a consistent set of release+patches. And let me not go into the pricing of asking the cloud suppliers to do just that (PaaS). Let’s just say it destroys the entire argument for the cloud being cheaper.
    I’m sorry but the more I deal with the cloud, the more I’m seeing the same old errors and mistakes that caused service bureaus to be eliminated from the IT universe back in the mid-late 70s. Exactly the same problems, all over again. Only the flies have changed….

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