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Cloud database services multiply to ease admin work by users

The list of vendors offering managed cloud database services is growing rapidly, which gives IT teams more opportunities to offload management of database systems.

NEW YORK -- Managed cloud database services are mushrooming, as more database and data warehouse vendors launch hosted versions of their software that offer elastic scalability and free users from the need to deploy, configure and administer systems.

MemSQL, TigerGraph and Yellowbrick Data all introduced cloud database services at the 2019 Strata Data Conference here. In addition, vendors such as Actian, DataStax and Hazelcast said they soon plan to roll out expanded versions of managed services they announced earlier this year.

Technologies like the Amazon Redshift and Snowflake cloud data warehouses have shown that there's a viable market for scalable database services, said David Menninger, an analyst at Ventana Research. "These types of systems are complex to install and configure -- there are many moving parts," he said at the conference. With a managed service in the cloud, "you simply turn the service on."

Menninger sees cloud database services -- also known as database as a service (DBaaS) -- as a natural progression from database appliances, an earlier effort to make databases easier to use. Like appliances, the cloud services give users a preconfigured set of data management features, he said. On top of that, the database vendors run the systems for users and handle performance tuning, patching and other administrative tasks.

Overall, the growing pool of DBaaS technologies provides good options "for data-driven companies needing high performance and a scalable, fully managed analytical database in the cloud at a reasonable cost," said William McKnight, president of McKnight Consulting Group.

Database competition calls for cloud services

For database vendors, cloud database services are becoming a must-have offering to keep up with rivals and avoid being swept aside by cloud platform market leaders AWS, Microsoft and Google, according to Menninger. "If you don't have a cloud offering, your competitors are likely to eat your lunch," he said.

Strata Data Conference
The Strata Data Conference was held from Sept. 23 to 26 in New York City.

Todd Blaschka, TigerGraph's chief operating officer, also pointed to user adoption of the Atlas cloud service that NoSQL database vendor MongoDB launched in 2016 as a motivating factor for other vendors, including his company. "You can see how big of a revenue generator that has been," Blaschka said. Managed services like Atlas "allow more people to get access [to databases] more quickly," he noted.

Blaschka said more than 50% of TigerGraph's customers already run its namesake graph database in the cloud, using a conventional version that they have to deploy and manage themselves. But with the company's new TigerGraph Cloud service, users "don't have to worry about knowing what a graph is or downloading it," he said. "They can just build a prototype database and get started."

TigerGraph Cloud is initially available in the AWS cloud; support will also be added for Microsoft Azure and then Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in the future, Blaschka said.

Yellowbrick Data made its Yellowbrick Cloud Data Warehouse service generally available on all three of the cloud platforms, giving users a DBaaS alternative to the on-premises data warehouse appliance it released in 2017. Later this year, Yellowbrick also plans to offer a companion disaster recovery service that provides cloud-based replicas of on-premises or cloud data warehouses.

More cloud database services on the way

MemSQL, one of the vendors in the NewSQL database category, detailed plans for a managed cloud service called Helios, which is currently available in a private preview release on AWS and GCP. Azure support will be added next year, said Peter Guagenti, MemSQL's chief marketing officer.

About 60% of MemSQL's customers run its database in the cloud on their own now, Guagenti said. But he added that the company, which primarily focuses on operational data, was waiting for the Kubernetes StatefulSets API object for managing stateful applications in containers to become available in a mature implementation before launching the Helios service.

Actian, which introduced a cloud service version of its data warehouse platform on AWS last March, said it will make the Avalanche service available on Azure this fall and on GCP at a later date. Avalanche can also be deployed in on-premises systems or in hybrid environments that combine cloud and on-premises implementations.

We ultimately are the caretaker of the system. We may not do the actual work, but we guide them on it.
Naghman WaheedData platforms lead, Bayer Crop Science

DataStax, which offers a commercial version of the Cassandra open source NoSQL database, said it's looking to make a cloud-native platform called Constellation and a managed version of Cassandra that runs on top of it generally available in November. The new technologies, which DataStax announced in May, will initially run on GCP, with support to follow on AWS and Azure.

Also, in-memory data grid vendor Hazelcast plans in December to launch a version of its Hazelcast Cloud service for use in production applications. The Hazelcast Cloud Dedicated edition will be deployed in a customer's virtual private cloud instance, but Hazelcast will configure and maintain systems for users. The company released free and paid versions of the cloud service for test and development uses in March on AWS, and it also plans to add support for Azure and GCP.

Managing managed database services vendors

Bayer AG's Bayer Crop Science division, which includes the operations of Monsanto following Bayer's 2018 acquisition of the agricultural company, uses managed database services on Teradata data warehouses and Oracle's Exadata appliance. Naghman Waheed, data platforms lead at Bayer Crop Science, said the biggest benefit of both on-premises and cloud database services is offloading routine administrative tasks to a vendor.

"You don't have to do work that has very little value," Waheed said after speaking about a metadata management initiative at Bayer in a Strata session. "Why would you want to have high-value [employees] doing that work? I'd rather focus on having them solve creative problems."

But he said there were some startup issues with the managed services, such as standard operating procedures not being followed properly. His team had to work with Teradata and Oracle to address those issues, and one of his employees continues to keep an eye on the vendors to make sure they live up to their contracts.

"We ultimately are the caretaker of the system," Waheed said. "We do provide guidance -- that's still kind of our job. We may not do the actual work, but we guide them on it."

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