Capping what we’d informally term “Database Week,” MariaDB has chimed in with an added premium service to the SkySQL managed Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) released last month. The new offering, branded Power Tier, is designed for higher-end MariaDB customers with their own demands for customizing their cloud footprint, taking a cue the old Burger King Have it your way tag line.
The options include instance types, replication, and key management, among others. MariaDB’s approach to DBaaS is very much in contrast to how most cloud managed services run, which is that they offer a limited list of options, if they offer options at all. All of the customizations are managed by ServiceNow’s (a MariaDB customer and partner) service catalog.
The rationale behind that is simplification – get customers out of the game of having to specify compute – and economies of scale, where cloud providers can more readily reduce costs if they stick to a few basic configurations.
But, as MariaDB is an open source database where other cloud providers (AWS and Azure) already offer more commodified services. The obvious form of differentiation is keeping database versions more up to date with the latest production versions that go live. And as we noted last month, that’s one of the differentiators for SkySQL. But MariaDB is also offering versions of its database that are not available through AWS and Azure, and with the new Power Tier, is continuing in the footsteps of the former MariaDB Managed Service in offering a more white-gloved service.
The first option allows mixing and matching of vCPUs, instance types, and memory configurations. Given that SkySQL for now runs only on the Google Cloud (that will eventually change), it in effect becomes a pass-through for the pricing of VM instance options that GCP already offers.
Another option is taking encryption key management, which by default would be handled and stored inside the database and use Hashicorp Vault instead. The latter has proven a popular option for many of MariaDB’s more demanding clients.
Then there’s the option for staggering replication processes. In place of the usual options for keeping all replicas in sync with the master, staggering delays some of the replicas, so that one set of replicas might be immediate, while others might be timed for an hour and/or a day earlier, respectively. The guiding notion is very similar to snapshots, by capturing the state of the database at different points in time so that is the database gets corrupted, it can readily be rolled back to its original clean state. While both seek the same goal, the methods are different: replicas fully duplicate the database while snapshots only capture change logs and/or pointers. And so, while snapshots are more compact to store, replicas are faster to restore.
As noted, the Power Tier provides a premium service not otherwise available from AWS or Azure – and it provides real differentiation for the more elite part of the market that demands it. But for MariaDB it requires a balancing act. It needs to avoid the pitfalls of Application Service Providers (ASPs) of the 1990s who pioneered the notion of running ERP systems in the cloud (before it was called the cloud) based on the idea that, if the application was the same, they could deliver an economical service. But the customization of ERP systems undermined ASPs, whose thunder subsequently got stolen by Salesforce.com who introduced multi-tenancy with a CRM system where customizations were limited to the application, not the storage tier.
The good news for MariaDB is that modern cloud automation and configuration tools can automate, simplify, and lower the cost of mass customization. But it needs to avoid the pratfalls of ASPs that wound up with too much customization to manage – there’s only so much variety that can be managed economically before things get out of hand.
MariaDB has put in some guardrails that must fit into the Kubernetes container model deployed by SkySQL. Configurations and orchestration need to happen via ServiceNow, and are therefore re-usable and auditable, with customizations reviewed and signed off by the SkySQL engineering team to ensure that they can support them. Hopefully, the support teams will have enough discipline to push back when necessary.