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DBaaS, OpenStack and Trove 101: Introduction to the Basics

07.25.2014
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[This article was originally written by Dimitri Vanoverbeke.]

We’ll be publishing a series of posts on OpenStack and Trove over the next few weeks, diving into their usage and purpose. For readers who are already familiar with these technologies, there should be no doubt as to why we are incredibly excited about them, but for those who aren’t, consider this a small introduction to the basics and concepts.

What is Database as a Service (DBaaS)?

In a nutshell, DBaaS – as it is frequently referred to – is a loose moniker to the concept of providing a managed cloud-based database environment accessible by users, applications or developers. Its aim is to provide a full-fledged database environment, while minimizing the administrative turmoil and pains of managing the surrounding infrastructure.

Real life example: Imagine you are working on a new application that has to be accessible from multiple regions. Building and maintaining a large multiregion setup can be very expensive. Furthermore, it introduces additional complexity and strain on your system engineers once timezones start to come into play. The challenge of having to manage machines in multiple datacenters won’t simplify your release cycle, nor increase your engineers’ happiness.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions DBaaS could answer in a situation like this:

- How do I need to size my machines, and where should I locate them?
Small environments require less computing power and can be a good starting point, although this also means they may not be as well-prepared for future growth. Buying larger-scale and more expensive hardware and hosting can be very expensive and can be a big stumbling block for a brand new development project. Hosting machines in multiple DC’s could also introduce administrative difficulties, like having different SLA’s and potential issues setting up WAN or VPN communications. DBaaS introduces an abstraction layer, so these consideration aren’t yours, but those of the company offering it, while you get to reap all the rewards.

- Who will manage my environment from an operational standpoint?
Staffing considerations and taking on the required knowledge to properly maintain a production database are often either temporarily sweeped under the rug or, when the situation turns out badly, a cause for the untimely demise of quite a few young projects. Rather than think about how long ago you should have applied that security patch, wouldn’t it be nice to just focus on managing the data itself, and be otherwise confident that the layers beyond it are managed responsibly?

- Have a sudden need to scale out?
Once you’re up and running, enjoying the success of a growing use base, your environment will need to scale accordingly. Rather than think long and hard on the many options available, as well as the logistics attached to those changes, your DBaaS provider could handle this transparently.

Popular public options: Here are a few names of public services you may have come across already that fall under the DBaaS moniker:

- Amazon RDS
- Rackspace cloud databases
- Microsoft SQLAzure
- Heroku
- Clustrix DBaaS

What differentiates these services from a standard remote database is the abstraction layer that fully automates their backend, while still offering an environment that is familiar to what your development team is used to (be it MySQL, MongoDB, Microsoft SQLServer, or otherwise). A big tradeoff to using these services is that you are effectively trusting an external company with all of your data, which might make your legal team a bit nervous.

Private cloud options?
What if you could offer your team the best of both worlds? Or even provide a similar type of service to your own customers? Over the years, a lot of platforms have been popping up to allow effective management and automation of virtual environments such as these, allowing you to effectively “roll your own” DBaaS. To get there, there are two important layers to consider:

  • Infrastructure Management, also referred to as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), focusing on the logistics of spinning up virtual machines and keeping their required software packages running.
  • Database Management, previously referred to DBaaS, transparently coordinating multiple database instances to work together and present themselves as a single, coherent data repository.

Examples of IaaS products:
- OpenStack
- OpenQRM

Ecample of DBaaS:
- Trove

Main Advantages of DBaaS
For reference, the main reasons why you might want to consider using an existing DBaaS are as follows:

- Reduced Database management costs

DBaaS removes the amount of maintenance you need to perform on isolated DB instances. You offload the system administration of hardware, OS and database to either a dedicated service provider, or in the case where you are rolling your own, allow your database team to more efficiently manage and scale the platform (public vs private DBaaS).

- Simplifies certain security aspects

If you are opting to use a DBaaS platform, the responsibility of worrying about this or that patch being applied falls to your service provider, and you can generally assume that they’ll keep your platform secure from the software perspective.

- Centralized management

One system to rule them all. A guarantee of no nasty surprises concerning that one ancient server that should have been replaced years ago, but you never got around to it. As a user of DBaaS, all you need to worry about is how you interface with the database itself.

- Easy provisioning

Scaling of the environment happens transparently, with minimal additional management.

- Choice of backends

Typically, DBaas providers offer you the choice of a multitude of database flavors, so you can mix and match according to your needs.

Main Disadvantages- Reduced visibility of the backend

Releasing control of the backend requires a good amount of trust in your DBaaS provider. There is limited or no visibility into how backups are run and maintained, which configuration modifications are applied, or even when and which updates will be implemented. Just as you offload your responsibilities, you in turn need to rely on an SLA contract.

- Potentially harder to recover from catastrophic failures

Similarly to the above, unless your service providers have maintained thorough backups on your behalf, the lack of direct access to the host machines means that it could be much harder to recover from database failure.

- Reduced performance for specific applications

There’s a good chance that you are working on a shared environment. This means the amount of workload-specific performance tuning options is limited.

- Privacy and Security concerns

Although it is much easier to maintain and patch your environment. Having a centralized system also means you’re more prone to potential attacks targeting your dataset. Whichever provider you go with, make sure you are intimately aware of the measures they take to protect you from that, and what is expected from your side to help keep it safe.

Conclusion: While DBaaS is an interesting concept that introduces a completely new way of approaching an application’s database infrastructure, and can bring enterprises easily scalable, and financially flexible platforms, it should not be considered a silver bullet. Some big tradeoffs need to be considered carefully from the business perspective, and any move there should be accompanied with careful planning and investigation of options.

Embracing the immense flexibility these platforms offer, though, opens up a lot of interesting perspectives too. More and more companies are looking at ways to roll their own “as-a-Service”, provisioning completely automated hosted platforms for customers on-demand, and abstracting their management layers to allow them to be serviced by smaller, highly focused technical teams.

Stay tuned: Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing a series of posts focusing on the combination of two technologies that allow for this type of flexibility: OpenStack and Trove.

Published at DZone with permission of Peter Zaitsev, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)