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What is Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS)?

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Introduction to DBaaS

It's now 2020, are you still looking after your own IBM DB2 server, Microsoft SQL server, MySQL server or PostgreSQL server databases? Have you ever considered Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS)? DBaaS is a web-based cloud service that enables businesses to lease access to managed data centres to make the handling of your databases easier and more cost effective.

For large corporations, Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) offers another way for them to streamline their business operations. As more companies, large and small, start to recognise the value of DBaaS, new services, providers and features will transform the way modern businesses manage their databases.

Here’s a quick look at what DBaaS is, how it can benefit your own business if you currently manage your own databases, and how to choose a DBaaS solution for your company’s unique database needs.

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The Evolution of Database Management

Traditional database management has changed a lot in the last 20 years. In the distant past, companies ran proprietary databases on their own dedicated servers, in their own server room. They had to dedicate resources like Rackspace, staff (DBAdmin), budget and time to purchase, setup, install, maintain and secure hardware, operating systems and finally the databases. The complete end-to-end process of setting up a database back then took days or weeks of dedicated time.

To help reduce the time and burden in setting up and managing databases, the database industry moved towards more automated solutions. Meanwhile, modern technologies like virtualization drove higher utilisation and improved responsiveness in the data centres. Now, we have cloud computing, and a lot of databases now run on leased, cloud-hosted servers, where software development teams may have access to virtualized operating systems and databases, but not to the hardware.

There will always be some databases running on dedicated hardware for numerous business related or technological reasons. However, the trend towards more automation looks like the inevitable future of database management.

The ‘corporate standard’ that used to specify a single database technology is on the decline. Instead, the new norm is ‘polyglot persistence,’ which hinges on many different database technologies and applications. The modern data tier is distributed and diverse. Provisioning, configuration, managing, monitoring, security and other important IT functions now need to adapt accordingly.

That’s where DBaaS comes in

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Enter DBaaS

Having gotten rid of in-house server rooms and the associated server racking and the daily task of booting servers, companies are now comfortable taking the next step—going entirely hands-off to let automation run their databases from top to bottom. They get a database to connect to (and use to store and query data), but nothing else. In this situation, the system is a fully managed ‘service,’ hence the DBaaS label, offered by an external company, by an IT company for its internal clients, or a combination of the two.

Many of today’s businesses want to automate manual tasks and eliminate human errors or security breaches, but they don’t want to spend time fiddling with complex technical details. The old way of managing databases required a lot of highly specialised technical knowledge. IT staff, normally the DBAdmin, had to learn, manage and update nearly all aspects of every database system.

Like a point-and-shoot digital camera, DBaaS provides professional databases that can be up and running and ready in a matter of minutes without a lot of training of staff, now most software developers can administer their own databases using DBaaS. A DBaaS provider chooses the database options and then offers an optimised configuration to the end user for the most common database needs.

While individual systems can become unique ‘snowflake’ servers, DBaaS tends to avoid that by simplifying and normalising the customisation, management and upkeep for administrators. Overall, DBaaS makes it easier to solve problems, correct mistakes and transfer data from one system to another. They can scale as database load increases, they fit the business needs of the customers and they offer better availability and security than most in-house operations.

DBaaS is also accessible to a larger audience because, like other ‘as a service’ cloud innovations, it is largely defined, configured and driven by clever code—not commands typed into a terminal by a DBAdmin. So, instead of requiring experienced database administrators, software development teams can easily create and manage database-backed apps on cloud-based development platforms. Heroku, for instance, includes a DBaaS that is configured through simple, declarative files that software developers can simply ‘push’ into production along with the rest of their app code.

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The Future of DBaaS

DBaaS is already responsible for much of the growth in some key technologies, particularly open-source databases like MySQL. In other words, traditional database deployment is now falling by the wayside, and most new deployments are now DBaaS.

The demand now is so high for DBaaS that some well-known tech companies have started offering a managed ‘as a service’ version of their own.

These in-house databases— think Amazon’s DynamoDB and Google’s Cloud Bigtable—were not originally intended for use by customers. They initially built them for their own business needs. But they’re now offering these databases for businesses to access, though not to install and run. These customers get a great database without having to worry about administering it, while the DBaaS provider makes money from software without having to support and troubleshoot it in someone else’s data centre.

In the private cloud, many companies are adopting OpenStack as the ‘cloud operating system’ of choice. OpenStack provides mechanisms to orchestrate and manage storage, networking and other data centre services, and it’s being deployed by large corporations for use in its own data centres, as well as by large cloud service providers offering public and managed private cloud services.

DBaaS’ rise is well-timed. As database technology presses forward, the tech world is only collecting more and more data. Smart, efficient database technologies have become mission-critical for companies of all sizes and in all industries. As a service that can streamline operations and reduce redundancies, it can help ease their customers’ load, so they can focus on what matters most to them—their business, and not looking after their databases.

This is an updated and expanded article from my original at IBM Developerworks.