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Should you host your database on-site or in the cloud?

There's been a surge of movement to the cloud in recent years, but there are still some benefits to an on-site database. Read on for a comparison of on-site and cloud platforms.

Cloud platforms have become a standard infrastructure choice for many organizations. But one of the top questions many IT shops continue to have is whether they should choose on premises, infrastructure as a service or database as a service as the platform for their database-driven applications.

Each architecture has benefits to your organization and drawbacks that include cost, control and configuration considerations. Choosing whether to host a cloud database vs. local database can be a difficult decision. Here's an overview of your options.

On-premises databases

Most of us have experience with on-premises systems. Our organizations have built server rooms that provide all the environmental safeguards, including temperature and humidity control; fire suppression; security; and redundant connectivity and power to ensure the computing systems are safe, secure and highly available.

One thing that comes to mind in the cloud database vs. local database debate is the cost of hardware and software. With an on-premises database, organizations are also required to buy, install and maintain all the hardware components. In addition, organizations must purchase the OS, database and a wide range of support-related software to secure, administer and monitor applications.

Infrastructure as a service

IaaS is a cloud architecture that is similar to an on-premises database. With IaaS, the vendor provides the compute and storage infrastructure and may offer some level of system maintenance activities. Customers have direct access to the platform, which includes both compute and storage components. Think of it as a server in the cloud.

Organizations using IaaS don't have to build the server support environment to protect their systems. The cloud vendor provides all the environmental, security and redundancy features needed to prevent or reduce the impact of unfortunate events.

IaaS customers will continue to maintain ownership of their software stack's administration, including the OS and database. Customers can install and administer their software of choice on the IaaS platform.

Database as a service

DBaaS vendors provide all the environmental infrastructure benefits their IaaS counterparts do, but DBaaS providers increase their level of control and responsibility by assuming ownership of the OS and database software, in addition to the supporting infrastructure.

Vendors also provide tools to help customers administer and monitor their DBaaS platform. Although customers can configure the system to meet their application workload requirements, they perform little to no back-end software administration.

Comparing on premises, IaaS and DBaaS

On premises, IaaS and DBaaS all have strengths and weaknesses that are inherent to their architectures. It's important to note that there can be a lot of variations in the vendor offerings for IaaS and DBaaS architectures.

The chart below provides a good foundation for comparing the three alternatives.

Comparison of on-premises, IaaS, and DBaaS advantages and disadvantages.
Compare your on-premises, IaaS and DBaaS options.

No database is an island

A key evaluation point when choosing between a cloud database vs. local database is to identify the amount of data you will be transferring back and forth to that architecture. Most databases take feeds from various sources, interact with other databases and systems throughout daily operations, and produce output that is sent to other applications. Getting information into and out of a cloud system can be challenging, especially if there are large data volumes and tight time constraints.

Many IT shops have found that the cloud requires an all-in strategy. When the application software and the data it accesses are on two different cloud systems or split between cloud and on-premises platforms, data access lag times can negatively impact performance. This is a significant problem for applications that require extremely fast response times.

On-premises benefits

On-premises architectures are best for organizations that would prefer total ownership and control of their systems' security, availability, recoverability and performance.

In addition, organizations using on-premises systems can use a wide range of administrative, monitoring and support-related tools to improve efficiencies and streamline operations. Organizations often find it challenging to integrate third-party tools with a DBaaS platform because of modifications the vendors make to the systems.

Clients that adhere to internal, industry-specific or governmental regulatory compliances may prefer an on-premises setup because of the ease of visibility into those systems. On-premises platforms enable support personnel to more easily provide supporting evidence to auditors.

IaaS benefits

IaaS enables customers to maintain tight administrative control over their environment. In addition, customers can also more easily use their favorite internal third-party products on IaaS systems. IaaS architectures also provide organizations with a higher level of visibility into their systems than DBaaS platforms.

DBaaS benefits

DBaaS offerings enable customers to more easily configure complex architectures that include high availability and disaster recovery. Because cloud vendors assume responsibility for the entire DBaaS system, organizations also benefit from reduced support costs. Competition in the DBaaS market arena is fierce. As a result, DBaaS customers can take advantage of a constant stream of new features and functionality.


The costs required to support a data center will be dramatically higher than renting environments from cloud vendors. But the cloud database vs. local database cost comparison isn't as simple for organizations that already have huge investments in their existing on-premises data centers.

The initial selling point for the cloud was cost reduction. As organizations gained experience with cloud systems, they began to realize that, although the cloud provided many advantages when compared to on-premises platforms, cost savings weren't always one of them. There are numerous cases where organizations have found the cloud's rental fees eclipsed on-premises costs when they compared the two alternatives over an application's lifecycle.

Evaluating initial and ongoing costs for IaaS and DBaaS systems is critical. You aren't purchasing cloud environments -- you're renting them. Those rental fees are usually based on resource utilization, which can vary dramatically. There are numerous cases of shops that didn't do their due diligence and were surprised at the charges they incurred.

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