AWS' DynamoDB improves on SimpleDB, but does it threaten SQL Azure?

Frustrated by Amazon's SimpleDB? DynamoDB offers an improved non-relational database that stores terabytes at a lower cost. Will it catch on?

Amazon Web Services launched a new non-relational -- or "NoSQL" -- cloud-based database service this week that greatly increases capacity and performance compared to its existing SimpleDB offering. It probably won’t attract the customers Amazon is after, though.

The offering, dubbed DynamoDB, may not entice many users of Microsoft's SQL Azure cloud relational database service because the two don't directly compete, according to at least one cloud industry expert.

"I don't think that DynamoDB will change the competitive landscape much (vis-à-vis Microsoft's SQL Azure)," Roger Jennings, a developer and curator of the OakLeaf Systems blog, said. For one thing, Amazon already has a competitor to SQL Azure in its AWS Relational Database Service (RDS), he added.

Interest will come from the startups and agile development teams [that] are building Web applications, not afraid of non-relational data stores, and require high-speed, frequent read and write access to a majority of their data

ShlomoSwindler, CEO Orchestratus, Inc 

Still, DynamoDB, which is available immediately, likely will be a welcome improvement over Amazon's non-relational SimpleDB. But there, too, DynamoDB may not attract many enterprises, said a long-time Amazon Web Services (AWS) user.

"The type of AWS customer who will care about the DynamoDB offering is not your typical enterprise developer, who uses traditional, big-name technologies in the application stack," Shlomo Swidler, CEO of Orchestratus, Inc., a cloud computing consultancy, said. "Interest will come from the startups and agile development teams [that] are building Web applications, not afraid of non-relational data stores, and require high-speed, frequent read and write access to a majority of their data."

DynamoDB lets users build databases that are multiple terabytes in size and store data in all solid-state drive (SSD) flash memory for speedier transactions. The data can be synched across multiple AWS "Availability Zones" in an AWS Region.

In contrast, SimpleDB only allows databases to be a maximum of 10 GB; anything larger or distributed requires customer’s developers to do a significant amount of manual coding.

"We believe we've finally cracked the code of what developers want," Werner Vogels, Amazon's CTO, said in a conference call. "(With DynamoDB) the database is no longer the scaling factor," Vogels added.

In addition, management, which can be a nightmare in SimpleDB, is taken care of all-but-automatically with DynamoDB from a single console.

"DynamoDB is a needed replacement for SimpleDB, which is better described as SimpleMindedDB," Jennings said.

Nonetheless, the service may turn out to be popular with users required to handle big data.

Not surprisingly, some current AWS customers agree.

We believe we've finally cracked the code of what developers want

Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO

"It's a neat service from the folks who authored the original paper [that] defined what a modern NoSQL database is," Colin Dean, a UK-based webmaster, wrote in an email. "Of particular interest to the big data folks is DynamoDB's integration with Amazon EMR [Elastic MapReduce] -- they'll be able to run Hadoop jobs on their vast data sets, increasing the value of storing data in the system," Dean added.

One area that may remain a stumbling block for DynamoDB, however, is the service's pricing model.

While storage is only $1 per GB per month, Amazon also levies a range of charges for data output transfers, all of which can be confusing.

"[In terms of] pricing [there is] a lot of detail to dive into for existing workloads to decide what it will really cost you if you switch," Nigel Fortlage, vice president of IT for customs broker GHY International, said.

In the meantime, Amazon is offering DynamoDB free, which provides 100 MB of storage, and five writes and 10 reads per second (up to 40 million requests per month) at no charge, according to the company.

Amazon also recently announced that customers can run Microsoft Windows Server applications in its AWS Free Usage Tier -- providing them with 750 hours of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Micro Instance use per month, without charge for a year.

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