What to look for in a Modern DBA Support Provider

Jon Cowling 13-Sep-2017 16:25:39

What to look for in a Modern DBA Support Provider

In the not too distant past relational database infrastructures, whilst reasonably complex, were still straightforward to support….if you had the right skills, experience and a modest array of monitoring / connectivity tools of course. In recent years, with the advent of Hybrid Cloud, Big Data, SaaS and ever more distributed data silos, things have changed materially. What used to be covered by a few DBAs, whether in-house or outsourced, is now often distributed across several teams (or indeed organisations) with different goals and resource demands; it’s a lot to keep track of.

To truly remain on top of your Oracle | SQL Server | MySQL | NoSQL | PostgreSQL etc. architecture, in other words:

  • keep it modernised in line with your application/cloud strategy
  • keep it secure in line with good governance
  • keep it highly available in line with the demands of the business

You would need a team so large it could end up being one of the biggest departments in the company. For some technology businesses this is exactly what has happened, however, there is an easier and more flexible way to handle the problem: Modern Managed Services

Managed Services aren’t exactly “modern” though are they? Quick history recap, it is a given that Managed Services are ubiquitous in the IT industry, and nowhere are they more prevalent than in the specialist support of database platforms. Why did this happen? The answer probably lies in the 24x7 society (therefore 24x7 application access),the rise of hybrid database platforms (hence the need for cross-platform expertise), the ever increasing amount of data and, not least, the expense & criticality of employing highly skilled DBA teams. Considering the time and resources you could free up by allowing a Database MSP manage these systems it’s not surprising that many companies made the transition. Keep core infrastructure in-house, outsource niches areas of database management….and make your supplier work hard!

Modern MSPs are those that have evolved their service to focus on PREVENTION rather than CURE. They tend to offer a PROACTIVE service with AUTOMATION at its heart. They aren’t just around to ‘keep the lights on’, they are there to offer INSIGHT and aid COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE (but of course they definitely can’t let the lights go out).

So, now that we’ve established that using a Database MSP was probably the right choice, how do you know if a particular MSP is still right for you, are they truly a Modern Database MSP?  Perhaps asking yourself these 3 questions will help.

Monitoring ✓ Alerting ✓ But do they predict problems in advance?

If they can, then how? Are they simply using standardised vendor thresholds or do they instead regularly benchmark your database’s performance against real-world situations; or even better can they benchmark it against your industry and therefore your competitors?

As MSPs we have access to incredible amounts of ‘real’ data. Having been a Database MSP since 1999, DSP has access to more Oracle and SQL Server incident data than most, and the advent of Big Data analysis tools enables us to deliver valuable, “aggregated” yet anonymised information to customers, sliced and diced to their requirements. Would it be helpful for you to know how your Oracle database’s Time-to-recovery stacks up against other similar organisations?

We call it Preventative Analytics, and it plays a key role in our early warning system.

How much Automation and Self-Service do they offer? Is there human oversight?

Performance Health Checks and Vulnerability Assessments are more crucial than ever; slow applications lead to unhappy customers and database vulnerabilities mean unhappy CxOs (but maybe happy lawyers?!). It’s no use waiting for your next standardised “quarterly report” to be delivered by a traditional, reactive DBA Support Provider to see if you’re at the mercy of the next Wannacry. Continuous Prevention rather than Cure should be at the heart of modern services.

Effective automation is clearly critical to delivering a fast service; however, whilst AI is gaining momentum we still believe it is critical for human oversight and relevant intervention to play its part. Ensure your provider strikes the right balance between efficient delivery and personal service. 

Are they asking you the right questions?

A desirable MSP is one that actively seeks to help you in the long-term, regardless of the implications for their service fees; for example, can they assist in modernising your database architecture to help reduce costs but also assess whether migrating to a public/private/hybrid cloud infrastructure will truly deliver greater flexibility? You’ll know if they’re interested in helping you because they will have a lot of questions about your company, your system, your plans but very little about your budget. The more sensible questions they ask the better!

In Summary

The most successful Database MSPs of the future are likely to be those with many years’ referenceable experience of traditional database technologies, but have skills across the breadth of new IaaS and PaaS technologies such as Oracle Cloud, Azure and AWS. They’ll offer prevention, early-warning, automation and self-service, whilst retaining a key element of personal service. Independence is clearly important, as is deep experience of your chosen database platform. Authors Note: Cloud migrations are not necessarily the answer to every question, so beware consultancies which don’t offer a variety of options!

As a parting thought, much like in employment, references are often asked for but rarely taken up, but surely any Modern Database MSP is likely to have many, many happy clients. Rather than talk to your potential suppliers favourite customer perhaps ask for a list of 10 customers and make the decision yourself as to which one to call? If they can’t give you 10 then that might answer the question for you.


Thanks for reading.

Think Modern Database Managed Services. Think DSP.