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Pros and Cons of Cloud Databases

Are you contemplating setting up a cloud database to support your business needs? If so, there are a number of factors you need to consider in order to choose the right system. This post will describe the pros and cons of cloud databases to help you: Understanding them will help you:

  1. Choose the right database management model
  2. Evaluate factors that can impact financial decisions, including costs associated with capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX) 
  3. Determine the best ways to ensure data protection 
  4. Ensure compliance with local, regional, and international laws 

In the past, databases were on-premises systems, available on local machines and accessed via a LAN connection to an in-house server. As big data becomes ever bigger and the databases needed to manage it ever more complex, interest in cloud databases continues to grow.

Like any database, a cloud database is used to aggregate and manage structured or unstructured data. More specifically, a cloud database is built and deployed on a cloud platform as opposed to an on-premises server. This makes the data accessible via the internet. Database management is also handled through an internet connection. 

Within the cloud, businesses may choose to run the database in a self-managed way with virtual machines that they must configure, maintain, and update themselves. Another cloud database option is a fully managed database solution, commonly referred to as a database-as-a-service (DBaaS). With a DBaaS, the vendor provides the business not only access to the database but also takes care of the setup, configuration, and most of the maintenance and administrative tasks associated with running it. 

Some DBaaS, like DataStax Astra DB are used to handle operational workloads, managing the vast amounts of data needed by applications in a business’ day-to-day operations. With Astra DB’s change data capture (CDC) capabilities, companies can stream their data to another DBaaS like Snowflake, which is built for analytical workloads such as those needed to support machine learning and to derive business intelligence.

While the advantages of using a cloud database easily outweigh the downsides, a business must be on the lookout for both. 

Who is using cloud databases?

Cloud databases do not come with a one-size-fits-all solution, which also means they’re flexible enough to suit different industries with unique needs.

In financial services, for example, cloud databases support a wide variety of business needs. They allow organizations to interact over the web for billing and other accounting needs and provide simpler audit trails and centralized safekeeping for businesses operating in this sector. Financial services are also taking advantage of cloud databases to create better customer experiences, too. One example is Endowus, which is leveraging its cloud-based Apache Cassandra database with Astra DB to better understand its customers in order to better meet their financial services needs.

Many companies in the technology sector are using cloud databases to serve the needs of many different industries today. For example, Barracuda Networks offers a cloud-based, Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) network, which provides companies in multiple regions worldwide protection from malware, ransomware, targeted attacks and zero-day threats. Barracuda’s ATP network uses Apache Cassandra as the underlying database for its ATP network and Astra DB, a DBaaS built on Cassandra, to simplify its operation and management.

These are just a couple of examples of how businesses are using cloud databases. Companies in a wide variety of industries, including travel and hospitalityecommercegaming, are integrating cloud-based database solutions in ways that are also helping them to grow their businesses. The bottom line is that cloud databases allow data-driven businesses to mobilize data in real-time and build smart and scalable applications for unbeatable efficiency.

Pros of a strong cloud database

The functionality and features of cloud databases can vary significantly depending on the vendor you choose and the management model they provide. Many businesses today are finding that the benefits of using a DBaaS far outweigh managing their own cloud databases. We’ll discuss some of the benefits specific to a DBaaS below as we examine the benefits of cloud databases in general. Regardless of whether you choose a DBaaS or a self-managed cloud database, you will want to make sure that the system you choose excels in the following categories:

Scalability

On-premises databases can quickly pressure a company's time and financial resources with increasing load and the much-needed redundancy. Reasons include hardware, IT personnel, and energy costs. The scalability of cloud databases eliminates this burden. 

Theoretically, there are no limits to the scalability of a cloud database. However, the reality is that scalability and costs are intertwined, with the potential for cost to become a limiting factor as a company grows. 

Cost

Pricing for cloud database systems vary depending on the cloud vendors you use. Pricing models include subscription pricing where users pay the same amount on a monthly basis, pay-per-use where you pay only for what you need, and hybrid pricing which combines elements of subscription and pay-per-use models. 

Using a cloud database eliminates investment costs for expensive onsite server setups. Similarly, outsourcing storage to a cloud provider saves you from paying a team of dedicated in-house IT professionals to maintain them. 

Additional costs to consider are those associated with upgrades and management of your database. DBaaS solutions such as Astra DB can significantly reduce the maintenance and administration of your database and eliminate costs associated with upgrades. With less time spent on troubleshooting, your technical teams can spend more time on tasks that drive more value to the business value, including application development and product design. 

Disaster recovery

Disaster recovery comprises a set of activities or measures taken by database operators to restore the data after a natural disaster. NoSQL databases like Apache Cassandra and Astra DB, a DBaaS built on Cassandra, systematically reduce the risk of system failure by hosting the databases on external devices and creating automatic backup files.

Providers offer different solutions to create database backups for applications running on the cloud and compute nodes. They also ensure storing backups in more than one location and different availability zones for high availability and geographical fault tolerance.

Plus, the ability of cloud databases to automatically generate backup files is another excellent advantage that incentivizes businesses to invest in the cloud.

Accessibility

Cloud databases certainly offer better accessibility than on-premises systems, particularly for businesses operating in multiple regions. If the cloud databases you use can support synchronization, your IT staff can access data from anywhere and at any time, as long as they have an internet connection.

For companies that require team members working in different time zones, this uninterrupted accessibility can be a real blessing. It also offers the opportunity for better cross-regional collaboration while minimizing avoidable downtime for your company. Employees can work with equal efficiency whether they are home or abroad.

Cloud databases also help you streamline application development because they allow your team to create and destroy databases as needed during the development stage. Accessibility through the cloud means they no longer have to work through your IT department for provisioning of a VM or a database for testing. This benefit not only reduces complexity but also accelerates time to market for new applications.

The cons of a subpar cloud database

As beneficial as it is to adopt the services of an efficient cloud provider to manage your company's data, opting for a subpar cloud database can actually create more problems than it solves. For example, some providers impose restrictions on per-field storage ability or indexing and offer only limited datatype definitions. And a cloud database architected with a single point of failure is an invitation for trouble. And depending on the vendor, your ability to scale if needed might be limited.

These are just some of the reasons why it’s important to choose a cloud database provider that can meet your company's unique needs. Below, we’ll cover some additional factors to consider. 

Vendor lock-in

This is where a business is stuck with a vendor because of the challenges that come with switching providers.

Different providers support different formats, so switching can easily mount costs for your business as you try to move your entire infrastructure to another cloud service.

This is why we recommend that you consider not only your current and future cloud platform needs and closely evaluate the pricing structures of different vendors as you are making the decision about whether to use a single cloud provider or multiple clouds. 

Downtime

Downtime or outage refers to data inaccessibility arising from different reasons. Loss of data and accessibility lead to negative business impacts. Common causes of cloud outage include network failures, misconfigurations, software bugs and upgrade failures, unexpected traffic loads, and power failures.

Regular backups, like virtual machine snapshots and a carefully planned disaster recovery (DR) strategy, can reduce downtime. You must also test these DR strategies on a routine basis. 

Moreover, modern DevOps and GitOps styles of configurations are always better than manual setups. You have a better chance of building an exact copy of a specific resource during disaster recovery scenarios if you rely on these modern methods. 

Vulnerability

Inefficient data management options in cloud computing can lead to costly data breaches. While major cloud providers like Google Cloud and AWS have robust security mechanisms, they typically handle security only for the underlying infrastructure. You are responsible for securing your database if you put it on top of their infrastructure. Often such setups are left with human programming errors, which are primarily responsible for data breaches rather than criminal intrusions. 

Another concern is that cloud database multi-tenancy is often done logically, which means that there's only one database and the access control to the data of one tenant is done via software. This opens up the possibility that one tenant could gain access to data of another tenant. One way to address this would be to spawn one database per tenant. However, even this model can be exploited if an attacker is able to gain control of the underlying system, which could make the underlying network and other databases vulnerable to attack.

Established cloud database vendors offer security features that mitigate the vulnerabilities associated with multi-tenancy, including virtual private cloud (VPC) peering, IP whitelisting, strong authentication, and data encryption schemes. These features also work to make data breaches difficult and less destructive when they do occur.

Lack of Compliance

According to one study, 94% of IT professionals see compliance as a top priority.

When it comes to data management, problems in compliance can prove costly for your business. Failure to protect user data tarnishes your business's reputation and can also lead to fines or even a lawsuit. In 2017, Equifax lost the sensitive personal information of more than 150 million individuals due to an unpatched Apache Struts framework in one of its databases. Later, the credit agency had to pay $575 million in a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

The best way to avoid compliance problems is to know you and your vendor's responsibilities as a shared platform. You must conduct routine audits, manage information access, watch for any lapses, and promptly fix the discovered vulnerabilities.

Ways to improve cloud database performance

There are a number of ways you can bring out the best of cloud databases. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the features available in Apache CassandraⓇ -- an open source NoSQL database built for the cloud and widely recognized for its reliable performance, speed, and scalability. 

Running clusters as needed

Any production system is prone to the unpredictability of traffic. Without running clusters, any business should have the ability to predict traffic patterns accurately. Otherwise, they’ll either pay for way more server capacity than they need during a low demand period or remain unavailable to their customers during periods of high demand. 

Cassandra offers consistent and seamless ability to scale to tens of terabytes of data. Also, you get outstanding performance under heavy loads. Its open-source nature prevents you from vendor lock-in. You can easily overcome the problems of downtime by reducing deployment time from weeks to minutes.

These attributes have made Cassandra a pivotal part of data infrastructures of several Fortune 100 companies. 

VPC peering

Cassandra users (including those who use a managed Cassandra solution like Astra DB) also benefit from VPC peering, which enhances data security by providing private peering between two or more VPC networks. This technique isolates traffic from the public internet which in addition to the security benefits, can also save on network transit costs. 

Database users introduce their encryption key management, use sophisticated authentication, and opt for security assertion markup language (SAML) single sign-on (SSO) integration with the identity provider. You can also benefit from VPN-level security using a two-way certificate validation. 

Data APIs

Application programming interface API is a set of functions that enables applications to access data and interact with external software components, microservices, and operating systems. Database APIs enable communication between an application and a database management system. They save developers from coding solutions from scratch to connect their applications to their databases. 

Stargate.io is an open source data gateway built for Cassandra. You can deploy Stargate APIs between your applications and your Cassandra databases. Currently, Stargate offers five APIs to help you work easily and efficiently with your data in Cassandra: 

API compatibility and Cassandra developer tools will also help you avoid problems with vendor lock-in. You can deploy on AWS, Azure, and GCP while maintaining compatibility with open-source Cassandra. You can also meet state-specific regulations along with retaining data sovereignty.

The way forward

Cloud databases can raise your company’s agility, scalability and security while lowering operational costs and risks. Migrating to a DBaaS can enhance those benefits even more. You can focus on developing great products and services as your infrastructure worries are gone. 

Indeed, Cassandra is an excellent database offering a wide array of features for modern applications including unparalleled performance and scalability. However, it can be complex to set up and maintain, which is why more businesses are now turning to Astra DB, a fully managed DBaaS built on Cassandra. 

Astra DB gives you the ability to leverage all the benefits Cassandra provides while enjoying the freedom and flexibility that only a multi-cloud, open source technology can provide. And Astra DB’s pay-as-you-go model can reduce the total cost of ownership by 75% because it allows you to run Cassandra clusters exactly when needed.

If you’re ready to take the next step on your cloud journey, check out Astra DB. You can register for free and get up to 80 GB monthly at no cost!

Resources:

  1. DataStax Astra DB
  2. Stargate.io
  3. Global Cloud Database and DBaaS Market (2020 to 2025) - Increase in the Growth of NoSQL Database Provides Opportunities
  4. Business of InfoSEC & Okera Report: Data Privacy Compliance Top Priority
  5. Why Does the Cloud Stop Computing?
  6. Capital One Data Breach
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