Decoded: A Day in the Life of a Database Administrator

by Jul 20, 2016

Companies know they need a database administrator, but they probably don't have any clue about what they actually do. The primary duty for a MySQL server DBA is not waking up in a panic because the phone rang so much it fell off the nightstand during their on-call nights. Outside of that situation, a DBA's function typically revolves around making sure the data is safe, sound and in one piece when the business needs it. Organizations use different database setups to try to confuse new database administrators, even though they typically involve the same day-to-day tasks.

Monitoring and Optimization

When database administrators get to work, they creep quietly into the building in an attempt to avoid end users chasing them down with not-so-priority problems. After a sufficient amount of caffeine, they fire up their monitoring programs to see whether the databases caught on fire overnight. They scan the landscape for potential issues, fix existing problems and make an attempt at optimizing performance, while other departments complain that IT does nothing.

Database Maintenance

Databases demand a lot of attention, so database administrators stay on top of patches, prepare data for migration to new hardware and perform other upgrades. Occasionally they take the database servers out for a walk, but only when they're stuck on an overnight shift and someone wants to see how well server racks work as bumper cars.


Cyber crime is a major global problem, and data breaches tend to ruin a DBA's afternoon. They look for ways to keep their databases secure and may venture into the land of the IT security department to enlist additional help in this adventure. Security audits let database administrators discover who forgot to patch critical hardware and software, and end-user account management keeps people from digging around in sensitive data.

Database Deployment

When DBAs walk into the office during a database deployment project, they face the exciting possibility of everything going wrong all at once. The system administrator failed to provision the servers necessary for the work, the other DBAs in the office suspiciously took vacation time for the entirety of the project, and the intern got stuck with all the work. The database administrator's duty in this situation is to prepare the apologetic email explaining that the project is going to run over time, and, by the way, the company needs five database administrator specialist contractors to make up for the vacationing employees. After a week, everyone in the department forgets what sleep feels like.

Disaster Recovery

A flood may have washed away the entire office, but DBAs will find their work is never done. They get the pleasure of restoring the databases to a working backup and hoping that restoration media didn't get stored on-site. If the recovery process is successful, the database administrator gets hailed as the company savior for five minutes. No one talks about what happens if it fails.

Database Support

Practically everything is database driven these days, from to-do list apps to the company's overpriced ERP system. When something goes wrong, the end users' first response is to open up a trouble ticket and blame the database. A database administrator spends a lot of time going through these requests and figuring out how many of them actually need to go to the help desk. A database administrator then goes through the much smaller pile of support requests relating to databases, figure out how many they can pass off to other departments and grudgingly work on the remaining tickets.

Organizations should spend some time observing a wild database administrator in his or her natural habitat. A business runs on databases, so it's important to provide this IT animal with the proper tools, food and caffeine to keep everything running smoothly.