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Do Database Specialists Matter When You Move to the Cloud?

Marc Linster10/7/2021

80% of EDB’s customers are planning to run their databases in the cloud; over 40% use EDB Postgres in the cloud today. Gartner has forecasted that 75% of all databases will be deployed in the cloud by 2022. In the fray to get to the cloud, RDS, Azure Database, and CloudSQL appear to rule the roost, and we are often asked if database specialists—such as Oracle, Percona, MongoDB, or EDB—still matter when the world of databases is moving to the cloud. Why do you need database software expertise, if somebody else runs the databases for you in the cloud?


Moving to a managed cloud service

Let’s analyze what happens when an enterprise moves their databases to a managed database cloud service, such as RDS. Traditionally, successfully setting up a database required multiple organizations to participate:

  1. Compute infrastructure—that is the network, the CPU, the storage and the OS—had to be configured and made available. Typically, this was done by the Sys Admin Team. In some companies, those roles can be further subdivided, often making things complex and slow.
  2. The database infrastructure—that is the database software, storage configuration with tablespaces, high availability, backup/recovery, geographic redundancy, security, etc.—had to be deployed. This is the job of the Infrastructure DBA.
  3. Data models, tables, indexes, queries, stored procedures, etc. had to be designed, maintained, and continuously tuned to support changing business requirements. Tables, and indexes have to be mapped to the right storage devices to guarantee cost effective performance. Traditionally, this is done by the Application DBA. 

#1 and #2 are focused on infrastructure, and are at the heart of the Cloud Service Provider’s (CSP) strengths. Setting up and running reliable and resilient infrastructure is at the heart of what they do and what makes the move to the cloud so attractive: no more dealing with infrastructure, networks, backups etc, or what a CIO recently called “non value-add repetitive drudgery” during a discussion panel focused on migration to the cloud.


When database expertise matters

But the Application DBA work of data modeling and performance tuning remains, and the Application DBA will need support and help—especially when dealing with new technologies or when making significant architectural changes, such as moving from the well understood on-prem performance environment to the cloud, or when he/she encounters an unexpected discrepancy with expected behaviour, a.k.a. a bug. 

This is when partnering with a database expert matters. These are the moments when it is important to partner with a company that can answer difficult questions, share best practices, or address bugs and security issues quickly.

The CSPs operate the database software for their customers. They make sure it is up and running, and that the application can connect to it. Support for the software, how-to questions, best practices, or security patches are either handled through third parties, or in the case of open source software such as Postgres, the customer has to wait for the community to get around to addressing the problem, and for the CSP to apply the patch. These are the situations where database software expertise matters.

It is a common misconception that there is no difference between RDS, or other CSPs running a database in the cloud, and a database software specialist, like MongoDB or EDB, doing the same thing. But the differences are fundamental. For one, the CSP does not provide support for the software - they only operate the software as outlined above. In case of a problem, they refer the customer to a third party, or they wait for the open source community to address the issue.

The second key difference is more fundamental, and matters mostly to enterprises who view data as a differentiating business asset. The database software specialist, who is invested in the software, will work with their customers to understand their needs, and make the software better -- the CSP is invested in the platform only, not the software. The CSP has a roadmap for the platform; the software specialist has a roadmap for the database capabilities.

I will use two real-life examples to illustrate why a customer-driven software roadmap matters for customers who see data as a differentiating capability.

  1. A northern European bank approached EDB to address a specific limitation in Postgres: at high logging levels, user passwords that are stored in the database are written to the log file when the password is being changed using the ALTER USER command. This inhibited the use of Postgres for certain classes of applications at the bank. EDB, acting in our role of a database software specialist, modified EDB Postgres Advanced Server to provide a special control flag to address the issue and redact the password in the log files.
  2. One of the largest credit card companies started leveraging Postgres for very high transaction volume applications on exceedingly powerful hardware. The customer encountered several situations where Postgres approached or even crossed the transaction wraparound thresholds, and systems had to be taken offline for maintenance. EDB took a leading role in the community to improve vacuum and bloat handling, which allowed this customer, and others, to leverage Postgres for new levels of uses that previously were problematic.

That kind of partnership is only possible with database software specialists, who are invested in the underlying software and have the resources to drive a roadmap. This kind of customer-driven roadmap is outside of the reach of a CSP focused only on operating the underlying platform.

What are the risks when you trust the CSP to be your database partner?

  • Bad design decisions. The CSPs expertise and market differentiation are focused on the infrastructure, not the database software.
  • Lower SLA when it really matters. If there is a bug or a disruption of critical service because of a software issue, that is when expertise really matters. Only database experts can have an expert engineer on the phone in 15 minutes to help. Operators focused on running the software cannot do that.
  • Your data, which is your strategic differentiator, is treated like a commodity. The CSPs roadmap focuses on the platform, not on driving more value from new database software features.

What are the business outcomes when you partner with a database expert?

  • Accelerate time to market by avoiding costly design mistakes
  • Make optimal infrastructure and software decisions, as the CSP and the database expert each play to their strengths
  • Build strategic relationships by helping the CSP and the database provider shape their roadmaps to help you maximize the strategic value of having chosen a specific platform and a specific software.

Database specialists may be more important than ever. They help customers get to the cloud quickly, and operate successfully in the cloud. The platform provider and the software specialist each have their own important roles in support, bug fixing, and in the customer focused roadmap for the platform and the software. Trusting a cloud platform provider with the software is just as foolish as trusting a software provider with the cloud platform.

Your data is critical. It's important to have experienced database specialists helping you on your cloud journey. Experience a fully managed database as a service (DBaaS) that is run and managed by database specialists. Try EDB Cloud - get stuff done!

Marc Linster, Ph.D., is EDB’s Chief Technology Officer. Marc is committed to EDB being an accelerator to providing architectural “know how” to help customers take advantage of Postgres without significant risk and cost. Marc believes that although new customer adoption of open source is easier than ...