Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a DBaaS

Paul Namuag

In this blog, we are going to dive into the advantages and disadvantages of using a DBaaS. DBaaS is a component of a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), which is essentially a platform built allowing customers to easily deploy databases to the cloud; eliminating the extra work and development hassles but with just a few minutes of deployment time.

The Evolution of DBaaS

DBaaS has been a trend since the past decade for which the enterprise customers have been starting adapting DBaaS since it delivers quick, secure,  and cuts cost while enabling the organization to streamline and focus on business and operations. As more companies (large and small) recognize the value of DBaaS, new services, providers, and features will transform the way users request and manage databases. This has been stereotyped basing the big cloud providers that this trend provides a huge income generation. Yet it also delivers challenges and opens a new opportunity to compete and challenge the big cloud providers and deliver their own DBaaS product. This results in the existence of MongoDB Atlas, MariaDB SkySQL, EDB Postgres Cloud Database Service, Timescale Cloud, ElephantSQL, Aiven, and a lot more that are playing now in the DBaaS industry.

These new players are mostly the database provider itself who also offers enterprise features that are not present in the giant cloud providers. For some new DBaaS players who are not into database development but more of monitoring and management, the diversity of service offering is more flexible and more refined to what customer needs that are not existent to the other cloud providers who are offering DBaaS. So what do these new players in the DBaaS have to offer to the target consumers? They believe that the expertise and particularity to the importance of their own database product has to offer can be valued and are delivered as a product. It's key and core features are always up-to-date. Enterprise features and practical changes to their own managed enterprise database license ensure that it's always prioritized when vital changes have to be made. Aside from that, continuous delivery and customers wishlist are prioritize but yet streamlined to the main goal and objectives of the database provider itself 

Advancement For Database Management 

As DBaaS evolves, this primarily references how the database management changes since the early 2000s. Over the years, companies and organizations are commonly running spending money for bare metal servers, extending its own data center, and training over the skilled database administrators are unavoidable part of the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This is in fact an expensive course especially for SME/SMBs. Technology-wise, it allows you to manage things under the hood but it also forfeits streamlining to more important matters businesswise. It also adds a large share within the capital expenditure of the organization. From the maintenance of the hardware and software, the people managing and handling the technical side, time spent for troubleshooting and finding fixes over the time, then spending productivity for security and researches are also part of this database management. It is considered as the primitive approach for database management, but it's still a common setup especially for those organizations belonging to financial or medical fields. 

As more challenges and realizations were emphasized on a daily basis, to reduce the time and complexity of setup and management of databases, the industry moved toward automated solutions. Technologies like virtualization and/or containerization drove higher utilization and improved responsiveness in the data center. Now, in the age of cloud computing, a lot of databases run on rented, cloud-hosted servers, where teams may have access to virtualized operating systems and databases, but not hardware.

There's also a decline when it comes to using "single database" on corporate/enterprise standards. Hybrid cloud and using multiple database vendors are a common setup nowadays. With the mainstream NoSQL and time-series databases meshed up with mainstream RDBMS are leveraged in the enterprise industry. 

For some number of reasons, databases running on-prem and on dedicated hardware are still prevalent and can be hard to terminate for this type of architecture. However, the trend toward more automation looks like the inevitable future for all aspects of database management and in every life-cycle phase.

That’s where Database-as-a-Service comes in.

Advantages of Using DBaaS

DBaaS lets you shift your organization from administering complex collections of silos to one powered by an agile and flexible database cloud. We may have said a lot of things when it comes to benefits that go to be an advantage when it comes to using DBaaS. Take a look at the graph below that represents the spectrum of on-premise against having your database run on a DBaaS with its role coverage on what to manage and what not to manage.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a DBaaS

There's just a few of these things above, and that simply means DBaaS is designed to streamline your business operations priorities. Let's dig more on a detailed basis on why it's advantageous to use DBaaS.

Minimizes Cost, Reduces CapEx

When it comes to cost, definitely a huge impact for the eventual result in the long run. There's no need to plan ahead of time within the organization's board or with the enterprise management team. DBaaS providers have a TCO calculator which gives you estimated costs for the specific type of appliance you are going to select and for the type of computing applications and usage you are expected to consume. Everything is just done automatically and it provides you a very quick overview that can turn into a quick decision on what to avail and streamline with the business operations in your organization or company.

Self-Service Portal For Agility And Speed

Everything is automated and of course, setup does not adhere to cost. From provisioning your own database instance, scheduling a backup, creating or initiating a backup (full, incrementals, differentials), backup restoration, PITR or data recovery. Security, kernel and OS updates, software patches are done by the provider as it's a fully-managed database service.  Administration tasks can be automated such that it can be scheduled or proactively initiated to support various database activities. Everything can be setup quickly. By waiting for just a few minutes and a few steps to setup access (e.g. white listing your IP), you can use your database and be ready to receive application client connections and for production use.

Reliability, Scalability, High Availability, Security, and Maintenance

These jargon are mutually inclusive by cloud companies for marketing and to promote the benefits of using their product and engaging with their industry standards Service-Level Agreement (SLA). This is definitely not just for marketing strategy, but it's an engagement for bringing the service and product up to the customer's expectations worth the price to pay. This is where DBaaS came competitive and more compelling to each other and of course in comparison to having an on-prem data center. Maintaining your infrastructure for reliability and scalability is time consuming and implies a great amount of costs. Having available all the time, or the expected compromise condition between the provider and the customer is how highly available their database instances are when a disaster or catastrophe occurs. 

Imagine, deploying multiple hardwares in multiple regions geographically is very costly if you do it privately in the organization. This supports the customers' doubts and questions on how reliable and available my database instances are by providing SLA and those five nines (five minutes of downtime/year) or  perhaps nine-9s (32 milliseconds/year) of downtime. Architecting this type of environment can be tedious and contains a lot of time to be always robust and works normally at all times. Security also is a key here that nobody, but is limited to the people specialize to work on these layers of architecture. 

Overall, the total amount for your TCO can be high if not running on DBaaS. With DBaaS, these problems are not yours anymore, but on the provider's diligence. 

 

Disadvantages of Using DBaaS

In spite of the above mentioned benefits, many organizations consider hosting their database on the cloud environments unsafe due the associated security risks, untimely control over your data, or due to data privacy and security law compliance and regulatory that requires it to be complied. We'll go over the list on this as what are the things mostly a problem or a concern listed as disadvantages when using DBaaS.

Security and Data Privacy

Although security is one of the key advantages when availing services to DBaaS. However it accompanies concerns with regards to data privacy. It can be securely safe when it comes to the computing appliance and/or software you are interfacing to utilize your database instance, but you might never know how your data is being handled or managed as you do not have control or access to limit only people who can gain access. The SLA between customer and the provider shall be cleared when engaging the services because any legal action of any data breaches or illegal access is totally unacceptable. 

According to Norton, there have been 4 billion breaches recorded in the year of 2019. This includes financial and health institutions. Organizations or companies that are dealing with PCI DSS or HIPAA compliance, might find using DBaaS a challenge, since storing your data without freedom and confidentiality on how your data shall be stored, access, backup, or transmitted over the wire counts every point of security concerns.

Physical Control

Technology amazes us day-to-day as there are brand new reports or technology that arises daily. With regards to this, whenever there are security and enhancements products that you wanted to push through and wanted to implement how your data is stored, accessed, or managed; there's no way you can implement it. Definitely, it's a self-managed service. All you can do is pass a support ticket and ask for a feature or a question if this specific hardware or security enhancements is part of the roadmap for security upgrade. In most cases, your wishlist will not be granted. The provider as well has its own desires and plans aside from its priorities if this tangible request is worth the investment for their cloud business to fulfill. Of course, when engaging a DBaaS provider, it shall be best to touch base and throw questions and concerns aside from reading their SLA's manual.

Domain of Responsibility

In times of trouble, part of the SLA's indicates that it is fully-managed and that security is dealt with regarding network with security intrusion and breach detection. That somehow can be an overstatement found in their page that this is observed and implemented under industry standards. Sounds great but in fact when data is lost or hardware goes rogue and affects your data, the question can be who has the responsibility of the data that was impacted. Although following industry standards in compliance to ISOs as what cloud providers are doing now, there's still a concern with responsibility as how are the data being managed, or accessed, and especially if the engineers have understood the compliance they're dealing with. 

Companies that are engaging with DBaaS and confirming with the compliance for customer's satisfaction, engineers are required to undergo certification training and as well signs a contract to avoid data theft and the sole responsibility of managing the data without reading or exposing the customer's data (data at-rest or data in-transit).

Lastly, the question that might occur in some situations. What if the DBaaS provider goes bankrupt or has been acquired by a certain company or organization, but then you might not like to adhere to the process as how it shall go? This leaves an uncertainty for whose responsibility that shall ensure if engineers (taking care of your managed databases) who might leave the company that no data theft or stolen. That data will be totally destroyed and no data are being collected or harvested. It's possible also that you might move from a different provider (DBaaS company) to another provider. Will your data be destroyed? Maybe you are allowed to reach and ensure your data has been stored. However, there can be underlying instances that are still replicating to the master or active writer as part of their scalability, high availability, and reliability architecture. Those instances have also been required to be destroyed.

Vendor Lock-In

Let say you are inclined to a specific feature of the DBaaS provider and that feature is very beneficial with your company as you go along with your business operations. There comes a time when the provider decides to longer remove that feature but you find that feature non-existent to other DBaaS providers just because the latter also is moving away to support the specific feature or might move away slowly from DBaaS due to financial or governance reasons within their company or organization.

Vendor lock-in can be a slap in the face if you are not prepared yet on what to come. Some DBaaS providers offer ease to interface with other providers that allows you data migration either way or vice-versa. That's why, for some DBaaS providers, it might be safer to use vanilla type databases for open source databases as its primary database offering. This means that, using a standard feature that exists in the community version engages high assurance that you can freely take data autonomy when you are taking advantage of sudden shifts in the market. This provides the DBaaS consumers or customers retain its agility when needed.

Conclusion

Whether or not it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to use a DBaaS, It might be worth it to take advantage of technology shifts that are happening in the market. Either using on-prem or engaging to cloud computing, some companies are adhering the concept of the cloud computing industry. This results in a hybrid-cloud outcome, yet allows them to cut the cost and boost their business operational concerns higher than dealing with complex and expensive appliances maintaining your database infrastructure.

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