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Is it time to move your databases to the cloud?

John Moore | Oct. 8, 2014
Faster time to market increasingly drives firms of all sizes to move their databases to the cloud. Options range from managed services to more of a databases-as-a-service. Even companies used to rolling their own technology solutions are drawn to cloud databases.

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Akamai Technologies, an engineering-heavy company that delivers a sizable chunk of the Internet's total traffic every day, is generally inclined to solve its technology challenges in house. Corey Scobie, vice president for Open Platform at Akamai, summarizes the company's default engineering culture and philosophy as, simply, "We should built it."

But Akamai, a content delivery network based in Cambridge, Mass., took a different direction when it needed to assemble database infrastructure for an application programming interface (API) provisioning and management application. Scobie enjoined his team to use a database as a service (DBaaS) offering instead of building and running its own database.

Akamai ultimately selected Cloudant's NoSQL DBaaS, which is built upon Apache CouchDB. The DBaaS has been supporting Akamai's internal API management application for about 15 months.

It wasn't a lack of technical resources that drove the DBaaS decision but, rather, the need to rapidly deploy. The company runs more than 150,000 servers, which power some 1,200 networks around the world. Akamai, however, needed to consider the trade-offs between implementing open source platforms such as Cassandra or CouchDB in house versus using DBaaS.

The time element favored the cloud database. Scobie found the DBaaS approach able to get the project's application development environment up in 30 days and the deployment environment up in 90 days. Akamai would have needed to schedule engineering resources for the database project six to 12 months in advance, he says. "Time to market was the primary motivation."

Cloud Database Gaining Momentum in All Its Forms
More enterprises and service providers view the database-in-the-cloud approach as a viable option, as industry analysts point to increasing momentum. Technology research company TechNavio forecasts a 62 percent annual aggregate growth rate for the global cloud-based database market through 2018. The need for technical speed stands as one motivator, but other factors include a shortage of in-house expertise. The latter consideration become particularly important as companies look to adopt emerging NoSQL databases as they combat larger and larger datasets.

For organizations ready to embrace the cloud, options range from self-service DBaaS products to managed database services that offer more in the way of hands-on support. Lines blur between services, though. A DBaaS, for example, may offer database tuning in addition to the basic database access.

The act of purchasing cloud services is sometimes associated with customers that possess limited technical infrastructure. Akamai demonstrates that's not always the case. "Clearly, there's no lack of server resources," Scobie notes.

That said, Akamai's network lacked a persistent data service that would fit the kinds of distributed configurations that company had in mind for its API management application. Plus, though Akamai employs a couple of thousand engineers, it lacked immediate access to database skills that could help the company "get something off the ground very rapidly," Scobie explains. He says instantly deploying engineers on a project is a difficult feat to pull off in any enterprise environment, noting that technical resource scheduling must be accounted for six to 12 months in advance, from a budgeting perspective.


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