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Pros and Cons of Database as a Service (DBaaS)

Erika Kalar

A question faced by a lot of companies as they start out (especially tech-based companies) is whether they want to outsource certain functions or do them in-house. Making this decision can sometimes be difficult, since it can seem expensive whether you’re hiring your own crew or paying another company to get it done.

When it comes to databases, though, things can get pretty messy pretty quick if they’re not managed properly. So to help you identify if database as a service (DBaaS) is a good option for your company, we’re going to go over some pros and cons.

Why Do You Need a Database?

A database is a computer system used to store indexed information. And in the age of big data, there’s a lot of information that needs storing. More importantly, you need to be able to retrieve that information reliably and use it to make business decisions. Databases make this possible by allowing you to store, organize, manipulate, and retrieve the data you collect in your daily business processes.

Databases come typically in one of two flavors: SQL, and NoSQL. SQL (or Search Query Language) is a programming language used to build some databases. It’s useful in many use cases—critical even, depending on the work being done—though it lacks the flexibility needed for certain situations. SQL creates rigid yet reliable databases.

A NoSQL database like MongoDB is more flexible, and can make changes on the fly, allowing for queries and information pulls to be situational. While it’s not suitable for every use case, for many instances that added adaptability allows for the management of databases that pull from a wide variety of unique sources, and manipulating the data in useful ways.

What is DBaaS?

Next question: What’s “database as a service?” This is simply when a company (the DBaaS) provides the equipment, software, and infrastructure needed for businesses to run their database on the DBaaS, rather than putting something together in-house.

If a company wanted to run a database in-house, for example, not only would they have to buy and assemble all the hardware, purchase and install all the software, and foot the power bill, but they’d also have to build their own database system, using either SQL or noSQL. That’s a lot of developer manhours, which might be a problem if you don’t even have SQL developers on staff. Which leads us to our next point.

Advantages of DBaaS

Using a DBaaS comes with a lot of perks. Here are just a few:

  • You don’t have to buy your own equipment or software licenses
  • You don’t have to hire database developers
  • You don’t have to build a database system
  • You don’t have to hire a large IT crew to maintain the system
  • You don’t pay the power bill for running all the servers
  • A DBaaS often comes with uptime guarantees
  • DBaaS teams are experienced, and know how to handle a variety of bugs and problems
  • The database is off site, meaning loss of power or natural disaster at your business doesn’t affect it
  • The DBaaS can usually devote more resources to their equipment, thus buying better servers and hardware than most small businesses can afford

You can start to see why businesses that can’t spare the manpower to run their own database would choose to outsource. That doesn’t mean in-house databases don’t have value though.

Disadvantages of DBaaS

The primary disadvantage to a DBaaS over an in-house solution is a matter of control—you don’t have direct access to the servers that are running your database. This means you don’t have direct influence over the physical safety of those servers, or the cyber security that protects sensitive data. If, for whatever reason, their system goes down, you don’t have access to your database. Lastly, there’s the issue of cost-at-scale: once a business reaches a certain size, it becomes more economical to build their own database and run it themselves (like Google does).

These are primarily concerns that affect companies that already have the expertise to rival the DBaaS, and the size to justify their own server warehouse. Smaller to mid-sized companies will still likely find that running their own database will be cost prohibitive.

When to Use a DBaaS

When you’re making the decision to outsource your database, the main factor you need to consider is this: can the DBaaS do a better job providing database services than you can? If you’re a Silicon Valley giant with an army of developers and IT admins, then by all means, build a database unique to your needs and fill a warehouse with servers to run it.

Most of us, though, aren’t quite there yet. And even with larger companies that can afford to field their own database team, it’s sometimes more cost effective to outsource the labor and maintenance to experts who already have the infrastructure to handle the work. Just like you’d hire a plumber or electrician to help remodel your home, you’ll want to trust experts in the field who already possess the proper tools to help your business run at peak efficiency.

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