Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Amazon RDS use case: start up point of view

Coming from three years of experience working as a developer on MySQL, I always felt Amazon RDS (Relational Database System) was just snapping away customers from the database companies themselves by only making some wrappers around it to offer RDS. I hated the idea of using Amazon RDS instead of a database. In the last one month I have read a lot about Amazon RDS and my views have changed. I have started to understand that the amazon RDS does have a real good utility at times and does a god job too. Below I talk of the clear market I see for amazon RDS. Note that all content below is written from the point of view of a start up or a small company which is where I see Amazon RDS fitting the best.

I am a firm believer in the popular quote- Life is a sum total of the choices you make. When it comes to technology today, there are so many choices that the toughest part is choosing your software correctly to suit your use cases. One such problem I recently came across was maintaining a native database (backed by MySQL, postgreSQL or Oracle) or choosing to go with the Amazon RDS. As with all difficult choices it actually depends on the state of organization the most dominating factors being:

  1. The amount of money you are willing to spend. If you are broke on this front affording Amazon RDS is out of context.
  2. Flexibility- While the Amazon RDS does a great job of making things simple, in my opinion, it happens at the cost of losing flexibility that comes with using a native database. A counter question to ask yourself is- do you really need so much flexibility at this instant?
  3. In-house expertise: If you have guys carrying a real good experience on of the native databases, it is a good indicator to take on the challenge and go with a native database set up. Be assured though that shit happens and I would imagine more so with the native database in a five people company.
  4. Available time- small companies live and die by how much work they can get done on the application side. If you are a small company racing against time to add features to your product, this should seal the deal and you should should decide to use Amazon RDS even though it costs a little bit higher.
  5. Lastly, it all depends on your product or application and the nature of data it carries.

In a nutshell, the choice narrows down to the time you are willing to afford to work on the database end . Lets first see what tilts the argument in favor of Amazon RDS. The big thing that Amazon RDS enables is to save on labor for all sorts of things, for instance:
  1. Monitoring,
  2. Logging,
  3. Auto-scaling,
  4. Caching infrastructure,
  5. DB servers,
  6. Media transcoding etc.

So Amazon RDS frees you from thinking about all of that by paying some extra money and biting on your flexibility as explained in the introduction section. For the extra cash you burn you save on the labor involved in doing all of them.

If you choose to set up your own database and manage it, be it on your dedicated hardware on an Amazon EC2 instance, you need to realize that you will have to periodically invest in it

  1. To thoroughly document the set-up,
  2. Very thoroughly test the replication, failover behaviours, backup/restore flows etc.
  3. You will need to build a team to do most or all of this.
  4. Upgrade (whenever required) yourself
  5. You will have to go through the practice runs (backup, restore, failover) all over again to make sure everything still works.
  6. Remain failsafe so if postgres fails in a weird way, you need to carefully punt parts of the infrastructure in a pre-determined way to avoid data loss etc.

As a rule of thumb if running your own native database would markedly improve the product, do it. If not, you are probably looking at trading upfront cost for labor expense. For a small company with low manpower, I think one should really let Amazon RDS handle everything and focus on the product for the time being

Sadly, this is an excerpt from the notes I had while studying this subject. At that time there was no idea of writing a blog and hence I have lost the references but all this is mostly derived from quora, stackoverflow and the official manual for Amazon RDS. Lastly, best of luck on managing your data. Keep your data safe and have fun!


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