Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CTO & co-founder, recently announced the world’s first fully autonomous database, with the promise that this will reduce the effort and hence cost of running enterprise databases:
“In a couple of weeks, we will announce the world’s first fully autonomous database cloud service. Based on machine learning, the latest version of Oracle is a totally automated “self-driving” system that does not require human beings to manage or tune the database…Oracle has to automatically tune, patch and upgrade itself while the system is running. AWS can’t do any of this stuff.”
This is exciting progress but it’s worth reflecting what it may really mean in practice.
In late autumn 1996 I was a young DBA working for Oracle Consulting and took a coach to Wembley Arena to hear Larry announce Oracle’s latest and greatest technologies. In typical Larry style, presenting in front of a pensive audience from Oracle UK, he ditched the slides almost immediately and ad-libbed impressively, although with possibly planned spontaneity. He announced the Network Computer, which would strike a blow at Microsoft, and lauded Oracle 8i’s self-managing capabilities as being the death of the DBA. Having only recently completed my DBA bootcamp I was somewhat crestfallen and bereft – my job was already doomed!
Twenty years later I run Claremont’s Managed Services practice and the DBA group is our largest delivery team. What happened and what does this mean for Larry’s latest announcement?
While we don’t have Network Computers (at least not in the way Larry Ellison evangelised) and we do still have DBAs, it was, in part, the technical progress that spawned the Network Computer that has made databases ever larger and more important and, for example, saw the rise of middleware since 1997. We’ve looked to DBAs to support those hence that has countered whatever 8i could have done to diminish the DBA role.
The DBA role has changed. Indeed, if your Oracle DBAs are still spending significant time on things such as space and tablespace management then it’s time to look at how your Oracle DBA support is delivered! But for all the activities that have diminished or evaporated over the past 20 years new tasks and challenges have appeared.
I suspect history tells us how this latest announcement will affect DBAs’ roles. Some aspects of database management will disappear but for large, complex or critical enterprise databases the job of a DBA is not about to vanish and there will be new technical and operational challenges that require the DBA’s skills. But this analysis doesn’t contradict the promised benefits of autonomous databases. Today’s databases and the DBAs that support them should be delivering more value for businesses than was possible 20 years ago and advances such as autonomous databases will continue that trend; my DBA team may remain Claremont Managed Services’ largest resolver group but by spending less time delivering low-level administration they deliver services that add more value for our customers.