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Aiven set to grow open source database-as-a-service platform

There is no shortage of challenges and competition in the open source database market, but Aiven CTO Heikki Nousiainen sees opportunities for growth.

Running an open source database in the cloud has become an increasingly lucrative and competitive business.

The big three public cloud providers -- AWS, Google and Microsoft -- all provide managed open source database as a service (DBaaS) offerings, as do a number of database vendors and third-party firms, including Instaclustr and Aiven, among others.

Aiven, based in Helsinki, Finland, got its start in 2015 with a managed PostgreSQL cloud service and has expanded since then to support multiple open source data technologies, including Apache Kafka, Apache Cassandra, MySQL and Redis.

On March 23, Aiven marked the next major phase of its evolution, raising $100 million in a Series C round of funding led by Atomico, with participation from Salesforce Ventures and World Innovation Lab. Total funding to date for Aiven now stands at $150 million.

In this Q&A, Heikki Nousiainen, co-founder and CTO of Aiven, discusses the state of open source databases, cloud competition and where Aiven is headed.

Why did you raise $100M and how will it help Aiven grow its open source DBaaS technology?

Heikki Nousiainen: The funding is definitely going to strengthen our position. We believe that there's a big trend moving to open source and moving to cloud with managed services and we are in a very good position to grow aggressively. This round also allows us to significantly increase our investment in the open source technology that we love as we contribute back to projects, making sure that they are healthy.

Headshot of Aiven co-founder and CTO Heikki NousiainenHeikki Nousiainen

We are now very specifically setting up an open source office, which means that we will have investments in full-time open source developers working in the upstream projects that we offer to our customers with managed services.

We will be using the funds to also accelerate our current organization, so that does include go-to-market efforts. We've been mostly present in North America and in Europe and we now will also expand to Asia as we see huge potential there.

We set out to build Aiven as a service that we would have liked to have existed in our previous jobs and I think that has worked out really well.
Heikki NousiainenCo-founder and CTO, Aiven

How has Aiven and the market for open source DBaaS changed since you started the company?

Nousiainen: When we started, we saw that there was the need for PostgreSQL as a service to help companies run the open source database in the cloud. Demand for open source databases in the cloud has grown.

We set out to build Aiven as a service that we would have liked to have existed in our previous jobs and I think that has worked out really well. We cater to the developers that we know and understand. Perhaps the biggest change is that open source is becoming more and more mainstream. So now we see hyperscale providers also coming up with open source solutions and managed services instead of just the proprietary services that they mostly offered six years ago.

With the cloud providers now offering open source DBaaS what is the risk to Aiven?

Nousiainen: I think with these hyperscalers, maybe we are a competitor, but more than anything, I think we're all partners. I think the market for cloud services is growing at such a pace that there is indeed room for everyone.

I think that the common goal for both us and the hyperscalers is to help businesses with the transition into using public cloud and using open source technology.

Maybe something that is unique for us is our pure focus on open source. So we offer our users versions of software that are unmodified from the upstream open source project. If we do any additions, then we are sure to open source all the modifications back upstream.

What have you seen from Aiven users as the challenges of running an open source DBaaS?

Nousiainen: The challenge is usually on the operational side of things. Things like how to run database operations in a 24/7 environment. If something breaks how do you fix it? How do users ensure that the backups are taken on schedule and that they actually do work? Handling software updates and security patches is also a challenge.

There's no magic but a lot of operational expertise and a lot of operational overhead that Aiven can take and handle on behalf of the customer letting the developers really concentrate on building the application.

What new open source databases do you expect Aiven will support in the coming months and years?

Nousiainen: We are continuously looking at new interesting technologies coming from the open source world that are helpful for businesses or are in demand. We just launched an M3 service, for example, as we see great potential in time series databases.

We will be looking at analytics capability, so there's a managed version of Apache Flink for stream processing that is coming up soon, as is support for the open source ClickHouse analytical database. Those are two interesting technologies that we see our customers looking for.

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