Depending on what we would informally say “Database Week” MariaDB has chimed in with an extra premium service for SkySQL managed database-as-a-service (DBaaS) released last month. The new offering, the Power Tier brand, is designed for advanced MariaDB customers with their own requirements for customizing their cloud footprint and taking a cue from the old Burger King Have it your way tag line.
Options include instance types, replication and key management. MariaDB’s approach to DBaaS is very unlike how most cloud-managed services run, which is that they offer a limited list of options if they offer options at all. All customizations are managed by ServiceNow s (a MariaDB customer and partner) service directory.
The rationale behind it is simplification – getting customers out of the game with having to specify metrics – and economies of scale where cloud providers can more easily reduce costs if they stick to a few basic configurations.
But since MariaDB is an open source database where other cloud providers (AWS and Azure) already offers several commodified services. The obvious form of differentiation is to keep database versions up to date with the latest live production versions. And as we noted last month, it’s one of the differentiators for SkySQL. But MariaDB also offers versions of its database that are not available through AWS and Azure, and continues with the new Power Tier in the footsteps of the former MariaDB Managed Service by offering a more white-gloved service.
The first option allows mixing and matching vCPUs, instance types, and memory configurations. Considering that SkySQL is currently running only Google Cloud (which will eventually change), it will actually be a review for pricing VM instance settings which GCP already offers.
Another option is to take encryption key management, which by default is handled and stored in the database and used Hashicorp Vault instead. The latter has proven to be a popular option for many of MariaDB’s more demanding clients.
Then there is the possibility of staggering replication processes. Instead of the usual options for keeping all replicas in sync with the master, delays offset some of the replicas so that a set of copies may be immediate, while others may be timed for an hour and / or a day earlier, respectively. The guiding view is very similar to snapshots by capturing the state of the database at different times so that the database is destroyed and it can be easily rolled back to its original clean state. While both seek the same goal, the methods are different: copies fully duplicate the database, while snapshots only capture change logs and / or pointers. And while snapshots are more compact to store, copies are faster to recover.
As mentioned, Power Tier delivers a premium service not otherwise available from AWS or Azure – and it provides real differentiation for the more elite part of the market that requires it. But for MariaDB, it requires a balancing act. It is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of application service providers (ASPs) in the 1990s, pioneering the idea 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 provide a financial service. But the customization of ERP systems undermined ASPs whose thunderstorms were subsequently stolen by Salesforce.com, which introduced multi-tenancy with a CRM system where customizations were limited to the application, not storage steps.
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 is necessary to avoid the aspirations of ASPs wound up with too much customization to manage – there is only so much variation that can be financially managed before things go out of hand.
MariaDB has added some protection frameworks to fit into the Kubernetes container model implemented by SkySQL. Configurations and orchestration must be done through ServiceNow and are therefore reusable and revisable with customizations reviewed and signed by the SkySQL engineering team to ensure they can support them. Hopefully, the support teams have enough discipline to push back when needed.