Databases need to shape up – and DBaaS can help

The unwieldy architecture that underpins legacy databases is holding businesses back, in part, because it slows down innovation but also because the inflexibility and complexity of these environments often hold IT teams to ransom. However, a database-as-a-service (DBaaS) solution can provide the answer to handling modern data infrastructure.

Drivers shaping DBaaS

There are several reasons that organisations need to modernise databases, and a key driver is the operational constraints of legacy databases. If you consider businesses with multiple environments in which software development is being carried out, and each instance needs to interact with numerous databases and integrate with many middleware applications, a change request or upgrade suddenly comes at a considerable cost. It also takes time to orchestrate changes in the backend which seriously impedes your speed to market.

Another critical reason that businesses are pushing ahead with DBaaS, is that they want to get the best out of the workforce. By using modern technologies built with simplification and automation at their core, you can suddenly converge skill sets and reduce the number of people needed to perform a single task.

Database Administrators (DBAs) have a very core and specialised skill. They don’t always sit in the infrastructure team but instead focus on their key speciality, and being specialists makes them an expensive resource to maintain. So you don’t want them performing mundane and menial tasks like provisioning a workflow that is a clear candidate for automation.

This leads us to the next driver: automation. If we can automate a set of actions and tasks, then we can spend more time getting into areas that need more attention as an IT team, like security, performance, productivity, and development.

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Creating good from bad

In a business like ours, we run multiple database environments that, if not patched and maintained correctly, leave open a pretty large attack surface for customer data to become vulnerable. Additionally, the worthy prize for business are the insights they can derive from this data, so ensuring things are patched internally to avoid lateral exploitation is very important.

But keeping systems up to date and provisioning and refreshing data in an automated workflow is a process that takes time and multiple resources. The key here is the automation and flexibility that DBaaS offers in this entire process. For example, the task of generalising data, removing tables or subsets that you don’t want, and then providing access to the environment so that data can be matched to other test and dev environments could take up to two weeks. Automation alone reduces time and strips away the necessity for manual workflows and processes, dramatically reducing the potential for error and mistakes.

We all run disparate environments, and this is another reason that database automation and centralised orchestration is so attractive. For instance, if you have an on-premises production cluster and a cloud-based cluster you are replicating to, where you are using a protection domain, it becomes attractive to pool this into a centralised control plane.

Marching to DBaaS

When considering the move to DBaaS, clear objectives are set out for what the business wants to see from chosen database services. The critical thing with the flexibility DBaaS provides, is that it gives you options. If the organisation wants to extend it into the cloud, or use a leapdisaster recover (DR) scenario, they can.

Businesses can have up to eight databases running — all with links between two different environments or bespoke packages written to execute stored procedures. So, to stand up an environment, you aren’t relying on only one database; you are synchronising between these eight entities. That is a lot of management.

If you update, refresh, or make a change in a legacy environment, you are undoing the whole test team’s efforts by changing the underlying data. We need flexibility in this and granular control, which is ultimately what our DBaaS environment will provide us — consolidation of our management and reducing complexity in test and dev.

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The best for last

What excites me most about DBaaS and database modernisation is the automation of workflows. It’s not new to want repeatable processes but bringing them into your CI/CD environment or toolchain to assist scripting tools or APIs on-premises or in the cloud to dynamically deploy environments, that is where it gets interesting. And that is where your database starts working for you; otherwise, you are still stitching different tools together.

When you look at public cloud relational databases, they have all this automation built-in, which is the promise of the cloud. It provides abstraction so that technical teams aren’t running around trying to do plumbing.

As we move away from the layers of complexity in performing day-to-day IT tasks, with solutions like DBaaS, we will see people start to unpack value from data. The world is gearing up for an explosion in data that is collected from customer-facing environments, like contact centres, and this data will be increasingly fed into analytics to change the face of customer service. So the time to get the fabric that looks after this right – is now.

Written by Dominic Maidment, technology architect at TotalEnergies Gas & Power

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