Tuesday Nov 06, 2012

FOUR questions to ask if you are implementing DATABASE-AS-A-SERVICE

During my ongoing tenure at Oracle, I have met all types of DBAs. Happy DBAs, unhappy DBAs, proud DBAs, risk-loving DBAs, cautious DBAs. These days, as Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) becomes more mainstream, I find some complacent DBAs who are basking in their achievement of having implemented DBaaS. Some others, however, are not that happy. They grudgingly complain that they did not have much of a say in the implementation, they simply had to follow what their cloud architects (mostly infrastructure admins) offered them. In most cases it would be a database wrapped inside a VM that would be labeled as “Database as a Service”. In other cases, it would be existing brute-force automation simply exposed in a portal. As much as I think that there is more to DBaaS than those approaches and often get tempted to propose Enterprise Manager 12c, I try to be objective. Neither do I want to dampen the spirit of the happy ones, nor do I want to stoke the pain of the unhappy ones. As I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t deny vanilla automation could be useful. I like virtualization too for what it has helped us accomplish in terms of resource management, but we need to scrutinize its merit on a case-by-case basis and apply it meaningfully.

For DBAs who either claim to have implemented DBaaS or are planning to do so, I simply want to provide four key questions to ponder about:

1. Does it make life easier for your end users?

Database-as-a-Service can have several types of end users. Junior DBAs, QA Engineers, Developers- each having their own skillset. The objective of DBaaS is to make their life simple, so that they can focus on their core responsibilities without having to worry about additional stuff. For example, if you are a Developer using Oracle Application Express (APEX), you want to deal with schema, objects and PL/SQL code and not with datafiles or listener configuration. If you are a QA Engineer needing database copies for functional testing, you do not want to deal with underlying operating system patching and compliance issues.

The question to ask, therefore, is, whether DBaaS makes life easier for those users. It is often convenient to give them VM shells to deal with a la Amazon EC2 IaaS, but is that what they really want? Is it a productive use of a developer's time if he needs to apply RPM errata to his Linux operating system. Asking him to keep the underlying operating system current is like making a guest responsible for a restaurant's decor.

2. Does it make life easier for your administrators?

Cloud, in general, is supposed to free administrators from attending to mundane tasks like provisioning services for every single end user request. It is supposed to enable a readily consumable platform and enforce standardization in the process. For example, if a Service Catalog exposes DBaaS of specific database versions and configurations, it, by its very nature, enforces certain discipline and standardization within the IT environment. What if, instead of specific database configurations, cloud allowed each end user to create databases of their liking resulting in hundreds of version and patch levels and thousands of individual databases.

Therefore the right question to ask is whether the unwanted consequence of DBaaS is OS and database sprawl. And if so, who is responsible for tracking them, backing them up, administering them? Studies have shown that these administrative overheads increase exponentially with new targets, and it could result in a management nightmare.

That leads us to our next question.

3. Does it satisfy your Security Officers and Compliance Auditors?

Compliance Auditors need to know who did what and when. They also want the cloud platform to be secure, so that end users have little freedom in tampering with it. Dealing with VM sprawl is not the easiest of challenges, let alone dealing with them as they keep getting reconfigured and moved around. This leads to the proverbial needle in the haystack problem, and all it needs is one needle to cause a serious compliance issue in the enterprise.

Bottomline is, flexibility and agility should not come at the expense of compliance and it is very important to get the balance right. Can we have security and isolation without creating compliance challenges? Instead of a ‘one size fits all approach’ i.e. OS level isolation, can we think smartly about database isolation or schema based isolation? This is where the appropriate resource modeling needs to be applied. The usual systems management vendors out there with heterogeneous common-denominator approach have compromised on these semantics.

If you follow Enterprise Manager’s DBaaS solution, you will see that we have considered different models, not precluding virtualization, for different customer use cases. The judgment to use virtual assemblies versus databases on physical RAC versus Schema-as-a-Service in a single database, should be governed by the need of the applications and not by putting compliance considerations in the backburner.

4. Does it satisfy your CIO?

Finally, does it satisfy your higher ups? As the sponsor of cloud initiative, the CIO is expected to lead an IT transformation project, not merely a run-of-the-mill IT operations. Simply virtualizing server resources and delivering them through self-service is a good start, but hardly transformational. CIOs may appreciate the instant benefit from server consolidation, but studies have revealed that the ROI from consolidation would flatten out at 20-25%. The question would be: what next?

As we go higher up in the stack, the need to virtualize, segregate and optimize shifts to those layers that are more palpable to the business users. As Sushil Kumar noted in his blog post, " the most important thing to note here is the enterprise private cloud is not just an IT project, rather it is a business initiative to create an IT setup that is more aligned with the needs of today's dynamic and highly competitive business environment." Business users could not care less about infrastructure consolidation or virtualization - they care about business agility and service level assurance.

Last but not the least, lot of CIOs get miffed if we ask them to throw away their existing hardware investments for implementing DBaaS. In Oracle, we always emphasize on freedom of choosing a platform; hence Enterprise Manager’s DBaaS solution is platform neutral. It can work on any Operating System (that the agent is certified on) Oracle’s hardware as well as 3rd party hardware.

As a parting note, I urge you to remember these 4 questions. Remember that your satisfaction as an implementer lies in the satisfaction of others.

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