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Wait, a Cloud Database Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need Your DBA

I’ve heard it many times.  Business leaders feel that since they moved their databases to a cloud provider, they won’t need their database administrative (DBA) staff. The thought is, “the cloud provider will manage that.” While cloud platforms do help alleviate some of the repetitive tasks of database administration, there are many functions that are not automatically accounted for in the cloud. Not managing these tasks could put your business at risk. In this article, I’ll explain some of the common tasks not handled by cloud providers, and why they are still vital to maintaining a healthy database environment. Let’s review what the cloud does well and some things cloud database platforms won’t do. Then we can dive into some of the risks involved by leaving those tasks unattended.

What Cloud Database Platforms Get Right

Scale Up/Down Cloud

Databases are generally simple to scale resources, either up or down, usually without downtime, or with limited to no noticeable impact.

Scale Out

Adding read replicas or creating a replica in another region is generally a simple task, although there is a cost involved for this activity.

Backup & Restore

This is the primary task that can get offloaded to a cloud provider. All cloud providers have their own configurations and options for backup and restore. They all allow for point in time restore and customizable data retention.

High Availability & Disaster Recovery

Cloud providers make it easy to spin up a new replica instance (or standalone copy) at any time, and in any region where that cloud provider has resources. This makes HA/DR tasks much cleaner, with less time spent configuring or maintaining these functions.

These are all tasks that can frequently take time and effort to schedule and complete in an on-premise world. Yet cloud providers make them simple point-and-click activities.

Where Cloud Database Platforms are Lacking

Query Tuning

Microsoft Azure provides some guidance into query tuning. However, their own documentation cautions against incorporating all their recommendations, without fully understanding the consequences. You should consult a DBA with knowledge of the database management system to make final recommendation on query tuning.  Additionally, there are other factors that can be tweaked to improve performance. These are often left out of vendor recommendations.  Running applications at less-than-peak efficiency can cause disruptions to end users and provide a poor user experience.


While many configuration options are disabled in cloud services, others are set to default out-of-the-box settings that don’t always work efficiently. A DBA-level understanding of what these settings do is still required to configure a database for optimal performance. Looking at on-premises trends can help identify these, even before completing the migration to the cloud.

Design Best Practices

Cloud platform providers package hardware and software services in a simple-to-use offering. When it comes to databases, however, it gets more complicated. The services provide the container to serve your databases, but don’t manage the data within those databases.  Also, there is almost no enforcement of design best practices and company standards.  DBAs with design/architecture knowledge are still required to maintain best practices and help application owners/developers achieve maximum efficiency in their products.


Many cloud services provide canned reports that help demonstrate database-level statistics. However, these built-in reports are rarely designed to match the output data and formatting auditors typically require. A person with sufficient privileges and knowledge is still required to pull requested data to make sure companies can pass compliance audits.

Permissions & Roles

Cloud provider IAM (identity and access management) services provide control over who can access the cloud console and manage services. They don’t provide direct access to the databases and company data itself. That is still handled within the database platform and should follow normal client security procedures. Many development teams start with a database user that has unlimited admin privileges. They continue developing applications that rely on those privileges. In most cases, having these privileges exposed to the application creates significant security risks. This may make it difficult to remain compliant with applicable laws and security frameworks.

These functions that are generally not handled by built-in cloud services, but can have a noticeable impact on business functionality.

Why You Need Your DBA

While cloud database services can provide great business value, and are clearly the wave of the future, they still have shortcomings. They have yet to introduce features that might replace years of experience of a DBA. Cloud providers have made great strides in helping companies reduce time to market and minimize hardware costs with the IaaS model. Database administrators still provide the expertise to leverage database services as effectively as possible. This helps companies achieve greater efficiency throughout their data-reliant business processes. The Ascend Technologies team can help you plan, execute and recognize the benefits of migrating your databases to the cloud. For more information, contact us today.

Andy Maser