The Hidden Costs of Databases

Backups, Monitoring, Patches, Emergency Maintenance, and Lost Opportunities

A relational database such as Postgres or MySQL sits at the core of most modern infrastructure, maintaining application state and acting as the central repository of critical business information. As such, it's absolutely critical that your database is always up, since the organization cannot transact business in its absence.

A database's true total cost of ownership (TCO) includes not just the cost of racking a server, but also both the cost of preemptively reducing the risk of database downtime and the cost of recovering from the inevitable crash, modulo its likelihood. When a crash happens, there are both direct losses such as the lost sales that couldn't be transacted while the database was down and the opportunity costs incurred by diverting engineering staff from their regular jobs to repair a crash. All of this directly impacts the company's bottom line.

Every second counts in modern business systems. Companies are truly global now, transacting business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your database has to be up 24/7, too, or you're leaving money on the table for your competitors.

Many people underestimate the indirect costs of running their own database, particularly when approaching the question from a purely technical perspective. "I can install my own Postgres in 5 minutes, why pay for that?" the engineers ask. A fair question. Their assessment considers only the most basic initial database installation.

How will you ensure that the database is actually up 24 hours a day? Generally it gets stuffed into the regular pager duty rotation, leaving it to whatever junior staff member happens to be on call at 3 AM to figure out how to restore a critical backup — alone, without guidance, and sleepy.

Reliably creating these backups, too, is nontrivial. They must be set up and thoroughly tested — a backup that hasn't been through a test restore isn't a backup. Has anyone actually tested your backup restoration process lately? Ever?

These overlooked points emerge as large surprise expenses later — or worse, they result in catastrophic data loss and major damage to the business.

In most cases, outsourcing database operations to a DBaaS provider yields superior economic outcomes. DBaaS providers can amortize the high fixed overhead of running a specialized 24 hour support staff across many customers, allowing each to benefit from substantial per-unit cost savings comapred to supporting databases internally.

Next: DBaaS Reduces Total Cost of Ownership

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