Oracle's Exadata means changes for DBAs

IT shops that want to run Oracle's database machine need to rethink their skill sets

Oracle's Exadata database machine can deliver the performance improvements the vendor claims, but also demands that IT shops and database administrators undergo a shift in thinking as well as attain new skills, a number of experts said this week at the OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

Oracle intends Exadata to be the new reality for its customers, with it serving as a consolidation point for large numbers of disparate servers and data stores.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Oracle does about-face on NoSQL. | Get Bob Lewis's continuing IT management wisdom in his Advice Line blog and newsletter. | Bob Lewis outlines the IT survival guide for uncertain times. ]

For decades, IT shops have been dealing with database implementations through "somewhat segregated" jobs, with server technicians, networking experts and database administrators playing individual roles, said Andy Flower, managing director of Right Triangle Consulting, during a session at the show.

But Exadata's tight integration between those components presents a challenge to the status quo. "You have to have a role that manages the whole thing," he said. "The technology makes it as such that you have to administer them in constant."

There aren't "clear answers, but there are indications" as to which type of employee is best suited to oversee an Exadata installation, he said. "People with DBA experience are more likely to put their head around the whole problem space, because they've been dealing with data rather than dealing with machines."

Arup Nanda, principal global database architect at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, has willingly embraced his new role.

Nanda now refers to himself as a "DMA," or database machine administrator," he said during a session that explored Exadata's architecture in great detail.

Similar sentiments were expressed during another session by Vinod Haval, vice president and database product manager at Bank of America.

The bank is running two critical applications on Exadata, Haval said. Overall, the project has been "a tremendous success from the performance perspective," and will also provide great savings on storage thanks to Exadata's advanced compression capabilities, he said.

But Oracle "was walking with us hand-in-hand through the process," he added. "We had to make sure we had the right skills internally."

If one were to break down the skill set of a solid Exadata administrator, it would constitute 60 percent database expertise, 20 percent with storage and another 20 percent or so with Linux and UNIX, Haval said.

Remote database administration provider Pythian Group has been aggressively moving into the Exadata business. The Ottawa, Ontario, company was recognized by Oracle this week for its work implementing and managing an Exadata system for online marketing company LinkShare.

Enterprise IT shops that decide against hiring specialists like Pythian to help them with Exadata can be successful if the right elements are in place, said Paul Vallee, founder and executive chairman, in an interview.

Companies can train their DBAs on Oracle's Linux distribution, get them Exadata training certifications "and accept the incremental risk," he said. "You could also try to hire away an Exadata specialist, but good luck," Vallee added.

The ideal target for an Exadata administrator is a solid DBA "with a special interest in the systems side" as well as areas like data modeling and an understanding of Oracle's various clustering technologies, Vallee said. "Then I think the learning curve is manageable."

CCC Information Services, which offers a variety of software applications that help auto insurance companies manage and evaluate claims, is about to undertake an Exadata implementation.

CCCIS is doing some staff shuffling in anticipation of Exadata's management responsibilities, said Patrick Traynor, vice president of architecture, in an interview. "We're in the planning stages and we feel pretty good about it."

CCCIS did not do a full proof-of-concept exercise for Exadata before it bought the system, but had extensive conversations with existing customers, according to Traynor.

The company is eagerly anticipating the performance boosts and storage savings Exadata is supposed to provide, but there's more to the investment than that, said Chetan Ghai , senior vice president of global marketing and product strategy.

Exadata should give CCCIS some headroom to roll out new applications, especially ones with predictive capabilities that can save insurance carriers money and streamline claims processing, he said.

Oracle rolled out two more integrated systems this week at OpenWorld, including the Big Data Appliance and Exalytics Business Intelligence machine. The company is positioning the products as something companies can run side-by-side with Exadata.

OpenWorld continues through Thursday in San Francisco.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's email address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform