Definition

cloud database

Contributor(s): Robert Sheldon and Joel Shore

A cloud database is a collection of informational content, either structured or unstructured, that resides on a private, public or hybrid cloud computing infrastructure platform. From a structural and design perspective, a cloud database is no different than one that operates on a business's own on-premises servers. The critical difference lies in where the database resides.

Where an on-premises database is connected to local users through a corporation's internal local area network (LAN), a cloud database resides on servers and storage furnished by a cloud or database as a service (DBaaS) provider and it is accessed solely through the internet. To a software application, for example, a SQL database residing on-premises or in the cloud should appear identical.

The behavior of the database should be the same whether accessed through direct queries, such as SQL statements, or through API calls. However, it may be possible to discern small differences in response time. An on-premises database, accessed with a LAN, is likely to provide a slightly faster response than a cloud-based database, which requires a round trip on the internet for each interaction with the database.

How Cloud Databases Work

Cloud databases, like their traditional ancestors, can be divided into two broad categories: relational and nonrelational.

relational database, typically written in structured query language (SQL), is composed of a set of interrelated tables that are organized into rows and columns. The relationship between tables and columns (fields) is specified in a schema. SQL databases, by design, rely on data that is highly consistent in its format , such as banking transactions or a telephone directory. Popular cloud platforms and cloud providers include MySQLOracle, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. Some cloud platforms such as MySQL are open sourced.

Nonrelational databases, sometimes called NoSQL, do not employ a table model. Instead, they store content, regardless of its structure, as a single document. This technology is well-suited for unstructured data, such as social media content, photos and videos.

Types of Cloud Databases

Two cloud database environment models exist: traditional and database as a service (DBaaS).

In a traditional cloud model, a database runs on an IT department's infrastructure with a virtual machine. Tasks of database oversight and management fall upon IT staffers of the organization.

The DBaaS model is a fee-based subscription service in which the database runs on the service provider's physical infrastructure. Different service levels are usually available. In a classic DBaaS arrangement, the provider maintains the physical infrastructure and database, leaving the customer to manage the database's contents and operation.

Alternatively, a customer can set up a managed hosting arrangement, in which the provider handles database maintenance and management. This latter option may be especially attractive to small businesses that have database needs but lack adequate IT expertise.

Cloud database benefits

Compared with operating a traditional database on an on-site physical server and storage architecture, a cloud database offers the following distinct advantages:

  • Elimination of physical infrastructure- In a cloud database environment, the cloud computing provider of servers, storage and other infrastructure is responsible for maintenance and keeping high availability. The organization that owns and operates the database is only responsible for supporting and maintaining the database software and its contents. In a DBaaS environment, the service provider is responsible for managing and operating the database software, leaving the DBaaS users responsible only for their own data.
  • Cost savings- Through the elimination of a physical infrastructure owned and operated by an IT department, significant savings can be achieved from reduced capital expenditures, less staff, decreased electrical and HVAC operating costs and a smaller amount of needed physical space.
  • DBaaS benefits also include instantaneous scalability, performance guarantees, failover support, declining pricing and specialized expertise.

Migrating legacy databases to the cloud

An on-premises database can migrate to a cloud implementation. Numerous reasons exist for doing this, including the following:

  • Allows IT to retire on-premises physical server and storage infrastructure.
  • Fills the talent gap when IT lacks adequate in-house database expertise.
  • Improves processing efficiency, especially when applications and analytics that access the data also reside in the cloud.
  • Achieves cost savings through several means, including:
    • Reduction of in-house IT staff.
    • Continually declining cloud service pricing.
    • Paying for only the resources consumed, known as pay-as-you-go pricing.

Relocating a database to the cloud can be an effective way to further enable business application performance as part of a wider software-as-a-service deployment. Doing so simplifies the processes required to make information available through internet-based connections. Storage consolidation can also be a benefit of moving a company's databases to the cloud. Databases in multiple departments of a large company, for example, can be combined in the cloud into a single hosted database management system.

This was last updated in March 2019

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