Making sense of Database as a Service and cloud database technologies

Database as a Service (DaaS) technology is becoming a more viable alternative to on-premises databases. Get guidance on the pros and cons of using cloud database software.

The allure of the cloud is growing, fueled by the growth of Software as a Service applications and other hosted online services. Many businesses have moved critical IT functions such as email, storage and their customer relationship management (CRM) systems into the cloud, paving the way for other enterprise technologies – including databases.

The cloud database concept isn’t entirely new: Various service providers have offered “hosted” databases for some time, although usually as part of a larger cloud computing platform. But Database as a Service (DaaS) technology has become more interesting as a possible alternative to on-premises databases now that mainstream database vendors are co-opting the cloud idea and offering their own online database services.

That begs the question, is Database as a Service right for you? And should you seriously consider abandoning traditional database management system (DBMS) software for the promises offered by a cloud computing database?

It’s easy to see why cloud database technology is beginning to take hold: It has many potential advantages for organizations. One of the major benefits is reduced maintenance. DaaS can eliminate the need to install and manage transactional databases locally, freeing database administrators from having to worry about tasks such as configuring and patching an on-premises DBMS. What’s more, the need for servers and other hardware-related technologies, such as disaster recovery and high availability tools, can also be lessened. Companies can feasibly save on staffing costs as well.

Quick ups and downs on capacity with Database as a Service technology
Another advantage that DaaS can bring is ease of scalability. Cloud database services typically make it easy to increase or decrease your data storage capacity; in most cases, you simply pay as you go for the storage that’s used. Increased flexibility also comes into play. If an organization encounters a sudden but temporary spike in data needs (for example, to meet holiday demand or other seasonal events), Database as a Service technology can be a practical option for augmenting existing on-site databases. Then, when the demand subsides, the cloud service can be turned off and all DBMS functions can return to the systems being run internally.

The DaaS approach is also an effective way to help cloud-enable business applications as part of wider SaaS deployments, and it can simplify the process of making information available to application users or for business intelligence queries via Web-based connections. A side benefit of moving databases to the cloud is data consolidation; often, databases in multiple departments of a large company can be combined into a single hosted DBMS, thereby reducing database sprawl within the organization. 

Using a cloud database also eliminates capital expenses for software, hardware and data center costs and translates the required investments into operational costs, typically with an enterprise paying a monthly fee for the database service and the associated storage capacity and bandwidth. For businesses that are launching new database projects or looking to move to a different DBMS, a reduction in upfront costs can prove to be very appealing financially.

However, DaaS does have some downsides that can significantly influence the feasibility of moving databases to the cloud. First off is security: With data being stored externally and accessed via the Internet, data-protection methods, such as firewalls and network-edge security mechanisms, may not be applicable. New approaches incorporating encryption, advanced authentication and data leakage protection must be implemented to properly protect data both in the cloud and while it’s being transmitted to and accessed by end users.

The Database as a Service model’s potential compliance complications
Other issues to be aware of include regulatory compliance requirements. Industry rules and government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Sarbanes-Oxley need to be adhered to, regardless of the type of database that a company is using. Some businesses may have compliance problems with DaaS because their data would be stored in another organization’s systems, especially if there’s a possibility of the data being moved offshore. Also, with the cloud approach, companies don’t have full physical control over their databases and the equipment used to host them.

Furthermore, there is a level of uncertainty about Database as a Service deployments. For example, what happens if your DaaS provider goes out of business, is acquired or stops offering the level of service that you need? IT managers and corporate executives should also consider the service level agreements offered by cloud database vendors and validate whether the service providers can meet their stated terms. Even so, once data moves into the cloud, there will still be a certain level of risk, driven by the uncertainties encountered when relying on third parties for critical business services.

The bottom line, though, is that most of the pros and cons surrounding cloud databases aren’t unique. Companies that already have adopted cloud-based technologies have dealt with similar issues involving just about any service that’s offered via the cloud. In the end, it all comes down to the level of risk that a company is comfortable with. Perhaps the best advice is not to put all of your eggs in one basket – it may be prudent to test the DaaS waters by initially moving smaller, less-critical databases into the cloud and then using those experiences to gauge how well line-of-business applications and mission-critical services would be served by the cloud approach.

About the author: Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology market. He has written articles for a variety of technology and business publications, and he worked previously as executive technology editor at eWeek and director of the CRN Test Center.

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