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SQL Server 2005 may call for a smarter DBA

Sybase, Oracle and IBM have traditionally required more highly trained -- and higher priced -- DB administrators. Will SQL Server now need them, too?

With the release of SQL Server 2005, Microsoft hopes to move in on the large-enterprise database management systems market formerly dominated by Oracle, IBM's DB2 and Sybase by offering features and scalability more like theirs.

Microsoft's chief competitive strength in DBMS has been ease of use, which meant SQL Server database administrators needed less training, making them cheaper to hire and train. But as SQL Server gets more powerful, it gets more complex. Will SQL Server 2005 take a more sophisticated -- and more expensive -- kind of DBA?

It's possible, but probably not at the outset. For one thing, DBAs who are making the switch to SQL Server 2005 are making the most of training that comes for free. "I will not need to go to training," said Tcharly Florestal, DBA at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla. "The documentation should be enough."

In addition to the documentation, Microsoft has been saturating the SQL Server community with resources that should at least get users up and running. They include free classes at events like September's Professional Association for SQL Server community gathering, workshop training as part of Microsoft's SQL Server launch tour, and even giving out vouchers to cover the cost of SQL Server certification exams.

Time is money

Although it is hard to make a direct comparison because there is so much variation in DBA jobs, analysts estimate that Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc. and IBM DBAs make 5% to 10% more, on average, than their SQL Server counterparts.

Oracle's certifications are worth more than Microsoft's, too, according to a Culpepper and Associates Inc., survey on pay trends from September. DBAs with Oracle certification were paid an average 8.4% more than uncertified DBAs, according to the study, while a Microsoft certification was worth only 4.6% more.

"The harder a database is to run, the longer the training required, and the more costly the training and certification," said Katherine Jones, an analyst in human capital management research with the Aberdeen Group, in Cambridge, Mass.

"Oracle is a very sophisticated database," Jones said. "When SQL Server first came out the door, it was the accessible database. It has changed over time, but it is still likely to be easier to use than the super heavy databases. In the grand scheme of things, it's still the easiest."

"It may be that people can take an online class or look at the documentation and say, 'I know what to do with it,' at least at first," Jones added. "But the general progression of software is toward greater sophistication. Over time, it could get sophisticated enough, to the point where more training is required. Then it could mean a SQL Server DBA could be as expensive as an Oracle DBA."

What are you going to do with it?

The kind of DBA you need isn't really a matter of which DBMS program you're using, but what you're using it for, according to Jim Shepherd, senior vice president at AMR Research Inc., in Boston, Mass. "Microsoft certainly has the perception of ease of use. Oracle has the reputation for being able to handle big, complex problems."

What's changed with the advent of SQL Server 2005 is that now a Microsoft DBMS can handle bigger and more complex problems, Shepherd said. SAP recently certified a benchmark involving 93,000 concurrent users on SQL Server 2005. That's big.

"If you have SQL Server 2005 in a 50-person company," you may not even need a DBA, Shepherd said. "If you have it in a 50,000-person company and you're using it to run SAP, you're damn sure going to need one."

"The reality," Shepherd said, "is it has very little to do with the product and more with the size and complexity of your database. It's not about the database product. It's all about the size of the installation and the complexity of your problem."

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