Managed Databases for startups: What they are and when to use them

Modern businesses need large amounts of structured or unstructured data sets delivered quickly, making reliable data storage an essential part of any application. But becoming an expert in database management is a complex and time-consuming process. Many startups and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) don’t have the time or expertise to manage databases on their own and lack the funding to hire a specialized database administrator. Cloud providers sought to fill this gap by providing managed databases, simplifying the process for growing teams.

How businesses use databases

Broadly speaking, a database refers to any collection of organized information. The programs that enable teams to interact with their database or collection of information are known as database management systems (DBMS). There are many different types of DBMS available, including Redis, MongoDB, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

DBMS offerings each have unique features, and businesses can choose the offering that best suits the needs of their organization. When considering which DBMS is best for your organization, start with your data model. Organizations will choose from relational models and/or non-relational data models based on how they retrieve and work with data. Choose a relational database if the data you’re working with is highly structured. If each piece of data is only relevant in the context of other highly related data, like customers, orders, and account settings, for example, then you probably want a relational database.

If, on the other hand, your data is highly irregular and unstructured, you may want a NoSQL database. If your data is inconsistent or unknown before it’s entered, like config files, documents, and strings of nonstandard text input, you’ll probably want a key/value database, otherwise known as a Document database or a NoSQL database like MongoDB.

From there, businesses should consider their needs for ease of use, data backup, security and access, support response times, and ease of use.

After an organization decides which DBMS to use, they have to decide if they should maintain the system themselves or if they should offload the database maintenance using a managed database offering. Teams interested in self-managing their databases may need to hire an experienced database administrator or spend significant time and money training existing staff to maintain the database effectively. Self-managed databases can take up a large amount of an organization’s resources due to the time it takes to manually perform various tasks like scaling, performing updates, running migrations, and creating backups. Many of these issues are compounded for small organizations with fewer resources. Often, teams are left to figure things out on their own, making database maintenance difficult and time-consuming. Implementing a managed database allows teams to complete all those tasks automatically, saving time and reducing the risk of human error.

Self-managed databases vs. managed databases

Cloud providers enable teams to implement databases on virtual machines and manage the database themselves. This can be done through a completely DIY approach, where builders would choose the VM that’s suitable for their application and install and run the database themselves. This DIY approach offers the most flexibility, but the entirety of database operations is the responsibility of the team. DigitalOcean also offers several 1-click apps in the DigitalOcean Marketplace that reduce the installation time, but they’re limited to certain engines. After installation, the maintenance of the database would still be the responsibility of the team.

Managed databases are managed by the cloud provider. A managed database automatically handles the setup and maintenance of the DBMS that you choose. Managed databases can create the database for you, handle backups with an immediate failover in case of error, handle security and updates, and more. Managed databases essentially handle the routine but essential tasks for teams so that they can focus on their applications instead of daily administrative tasks. The provider would handle database administration tasks like setup, backups, and updates, saving time for your team. While they’re easier to implement, managed databases offer less flexibility than DIY approaches as they’re only offered through certain engines. DigitalOcean supports MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Redis.

When to use a managed database

Many businesses benefit from implementing a managed database. Organizations that are not collecting large amounts of data, such as with a low-traffic personal blog or with databases still in the prototyping phase, may not have trouble managing their own databases. However, most startups and SMBs with small teams that are hoping to grow or scale will benefit from the simplicity and worry-free maintenance that managed databases provide.

What to look for in a provider

When choosing a cloud provider for managed databases, cost, ease of use, and support are key considerations. A simple-to-use platform and straightforward pricing will help your team get up and running quickly, and having support staff available to help with setup, onboarding, and troubleshooting, along with options to provide support in case of a service outage with mission-critical workloads, can give small teams further confidence. Finally, ensure that the chosen provider provides key functionality for any DBMS, including setup, backups, provisioning, and automatic failovers.

DigitalOcean offers several managed databases to meet your startup’s needs, including Redis, MongoDB, MySQL, and PostgreSQLSign up for an account today to try out our managed database solutions.


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