The era of the cloud database has finally begun

Enterprises are waking up to discover that their database needs have changed dramatically—and that the old-school RDBMS is no longer the best tool

The era of the cloud database has finally begun
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Folks, it’s happening. Although enterprises have spent the last few years shifting on-premises workloads to the public cloud, databases have been a sticking point. Sure, Amazon Web Services can point to 64,000 database migrations over the last two years, but that still leaves millions more stuck in corporate datacenters.

But not, it would appear, for long.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, just signaled a significant shift in cloud migrations, announcing that it is “going all-in” on AWS, moving its infrastructure to the cloud leader. But what makes this so important is that it also includes mention of Ryanair moving away from Microsoft SQL Server and replacing it with Amazon Aurora, “standardizing on … AWS databases.”

When companies embrace cloud databases wholesale, it’s effectively game over.

Why migrating databases to the cloud has been so hard

“The database has the most inertia [of all enterprise software],” Dremio CMO (and former MongoDB executive) Kelly Stirman once told me. “It’s the hardest thing to move because it has state. And it has the most valuable asset, the data itself.” Or, as Gartner analyst Merv Adrian put it to me, “The greatest force in legacy DBMS is inertia.”

As such, enterprises don’t lightly switch databases. As proof, just look at DB-Engines’ list of the world’s most popular databases. Although there’s been plenty of movement in the “long tail” of that list, the Top 10 most popular databases have remained roughly constant for a long time. Oracle still commands roughly 40 percent of the $34 billion database market, even though it has seen its new database license revenue all but evaporate over the past few years, according to RedMonk, and has dropped market share every year since 2013, according to Gartner,.

And yet, cloud happens.

Databases join the 21st century—in the cloud

Part of this comes down to cost. In the Ryanair announcement, the low-cost carrier not surprisingly hails cost reductions associated with moving to AWS databases for its email marketing campaigns. But no one “goes all in” on a new vendor simply because it’s cheaper. The cost of switching a database is simply too much of a bother to try to save a few pennies in the move.

For Ryanair’s email marketing campaigns, perhaps the shift from SQL Server to Amazon Aurora isjust a cost calculation. Part of that calculation comes down to the license fees saved, but much more revolves around increased developer and DBA productivity associated with cloud databases.

However, none of this matters for a growing body of applications for which traditional databases are a terrible fit. Over the past several years, there’s been an explosion of data processing, nearly all of it happening outside the Oracle universe. So-called big data demands databases that can handle data of such volumes, variety, and velocity that a SQL Server, Oracle DB, or IBM DB2 simply can’t handle. These RDBMSes were “born” in a bygone era when data was relatively small, somewhat uniform, and well-adapted to the cozy rows and columns of a relational database. We no longer live in that world.

Enterprises are waking up to discover that their database needs have changed dramatically. A database that worked fine for an app with thousands of users, a few tens of gigabytes or terabytes, and users all in the same region was a good fit for an old-school relational database. If you did really well and felt rich, you could splurge on Oracle to scale up, not out.

Today’s data mindset, however, is focused on millions of globally distributed users, with data volumes measured in petabytes or even exabytes. Response times in the old world could lag, but today you’re pressed for milliseconds—even, in some cases, microsecond latency.

At the same time, enterprises are figuring out that instead of one database to rule all their apps, or even to rule a single app, they need different database engines to handle different applications or even different parts of the same applications.

They need to think differently about data, and that is leading them to make the hard choice to push against database friction and migrate. Once that database decision is made, it makes it relatively easy to decide to go “all in” on everything else a cloud vendor offers.

Which is why Ryanair may be just one customer among millions, but it’s the sign of a significant shift toward an increasingly cloudy future.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.