What’s the Difference Between Managed and Self Service Databases? A Comprehensive Guide

January 11, 2023

What is the difference between fully managed service vs self service databases? When selecting a database management system (DBMS), there is a wide range of choices available. Along with your cloud strategy, the most important decision you will encounter will be your DBMS management strategy: a managed or self service platform.

While some businesses immediately know which of these options they prefer, for others, it can be a more complex decision. After all, when it comes to hosting database software, the selection you make is the foundation of your organization, and how that database is managed will govern your ability to innovate and grow. As such, in adopting a management approach, it’s essential that your IT leaders weigh the specific needs of your enterprise, the capacity of your teams and the challenges that might lie ahead.

It sounds dramatic, but your answer to the question of “managed vs. self service” might dictate your success vs. failure.


Self service databases: What they are and how you benefit

Let’s start with self service (sometimes called “self managed”) databases. In short, they’re exactly what their name implies. With a self service DBMS, your organization takes on all management responsibility, from updates to patches to installing extensions.

What primarily attracts enterprises to self service databases is the promise of absolute and total freedom—which makes a lot of sense right now. EDB has written at length about the mass-migration away from Oracle and other legacy database providers, much of which is driven by frustration with rising bills, restrictive contracts, vendor lock-in and the growing feeling that you don’t have full control over your own data. A self managed DBMS is the perfect antidote to that—every inch of your architecture is yours to shape, while your developers face zero limitations on what tools they can integrate to build your solutions. If you’re an open source strategy purist with the necessary resources, the idea of a self service database can feel like a dream come true.

But many organizations that opt for a self service platform strategy quickly learn that that is one massive if.

The expansive freedom that many associate with the self serve model might seem appealing at first. However, all those aforementioned responsibilities can quickly complicate the perceived benefits that motivate your business’ decision. To mention a few:

  • It’s free: While you don’t receive a bill for your subscription with a self service database, it’s not free. You might need to pay to hire a DBA to ensure constant proactive maintenance or invest in a separate support contract from a legacy provider. If you don’t, it will be up to you to get your infrastructure running again when your DBMS experiences unplanned downtime.
  • I can do whatever I want: Absolutely…in theory. However, it’s important to remember that your organization will have to devote a large chunk of its resources towards managing and maintaining the database. Under different circumstances, many of those resources might have gone to the ambitious initiatives your developers and architects had in mind. Now, you might have to put those on hold for the sake of keeping your DBMS operational.
  • My growth is unrestricted: Sure, you don’t have to sweat legacy database licenses anymore, but your growth is now restricted by other factors—namely, your budget. Unless you have infinite resources, unrestricted growth is going to be hard to achieve. Scaling a database takes work, time and money. You might not be paying Oracle for the opportunity to grow, but you will still have to spend. And now, you may not have the guidance to help you understand where your spending is most valuable for scalability purposes.

To be clear, self service databases are not bad. If you have the resources and technical expertise to manage your own infrastructure confidently, they may indeed provide you with many freedoms you might not see otherwise. However, before choosing a self service platform, it’s essential to assess your capacity to take on the associated responsibilities and risks, as well as research if what you want to achieve with your DBMS truly is only possible in a self-managed environment.


Managed databases: What they are and how you benefit

A managed database (often referred to as “fully managed”) is one where administration is the responsibility of the managed service provider. In short, a majority of the responsibilities which your IT team takes on in a self service situation—updating, patching, etc.—is handled by your provider.

It’s important to note that not all managed service provider databases are created equal. Indeed, some, such as Oracle, put heavy restrictions on what tools your organization can integrate, your ability to adopt modern architectural strategies such as hybrid or multi-cloud, and how you leverage your own assets. As a result of these practices, many enterprises view managed databases with understandable skepticism. However, not only do these limitations vary across managed DBMS, but they also distract from the genuine benefits these offerings provide.

Let’s discuss the most common:

  • Predictable pricing: Yes, managed databases do come with a subscription fee. However, that fee remains stable as opposed to the fluctuating and unpredictable costs a self service database might incur from outages and other maintenance issues. A well-managed database provider will also provide you with complete transparency into what they’re charging you, which might result in additional fees and other possible changes to your bill. That way, you always know what you’re paying and that you’re getting what you pay for.
  • Support and technical expertise: While a self service model demands that your teams learn all the ins and outs of your new database—or that you hire expensive DBA talent—managed databases come with experts who live and breathe your DBMS. They’re always available to help you in the event of a maintenance issue, and (more importantly) their constant monitoring of the solution means they’re far more likely to spot and avert issues before they inconvenience you.
  • A foundation to grow from: Much like how self service databases can stymie growth and scalability by devouring resources intended for innovation, managed databases allow you to conserve and leverage those resources, since management and maintenance is no longer your job. Furthermore, because you have access to database specialists, you have a direct line to insights and advice that can help you evolve effectively.

Does a managed database necessarily restrict your freedom in the long run? The answer isn’t as cut and dry as many think. 

The ability to build an entirely unique architecture, without constraints, from scratch is something that IT and infrastructure might consider. While there are some teams who really value that level of autonomy, the things you sacrifice by doing so—the things that a managed database provides—are things that really benefit developers. They’re the ones responsible for pushing your applications forward.

In reality, with the right service provider, you’re not trading away your freedom for convenience. Rather, you’re gaining the support to help you achieve your full potential.


Fully managed Postgres is an innovator’s dream database

For those looking for the perfect combination of the freedom promised by open source and the enterprise infrastructure offered by fully managed service providers, fully managed Postgres databases are a dream come true. Not only do they do away with the restrictive business practices of legacy solutions like Oracle, but they put your developers, architects and IT leaders in direct contact with those who built Postgres from the very beginning.

At EDB, we’re devoted to ensuring that organizations of all sizes have access to modern database systems that help them achieve their greatest ambitions. As the largest contributor of major features to Postgres, we’ve seen firsthand that Postgres is that modern database. 

With solutions like EDB Postgres Advanced Server and EDB BigAnimal, we’re thrilled to help enterprises understand the full power of managed Postgres, whether you’re deciding between on prem vs cloud. And, if you believe that open source Community Postgres is the better route for your organization, EDB Community 360 provides enterprise-grade support without the need for an enterprise Postgres plan—that’s self service with experts when you need them.

You deserve a database that works for you, and EDB is here to help.


Fully managed Postgres in the cloud is transforming businesses for the modern age. Experience it for yourself and test drive EDB BigAnimal!

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