Will databases be the kingmakers in the cloud wars?

This is a guest blogpost by Mike Waas, CEO of Datometry

The days where Hyperscalers competed primarily for their customers’ compute and storage needs are numbered. Over the past years, enterprises started valuing deeply integrated services much more than the mere infrastructure-for-hire of the early days of public cloud.

As enterprises adopt the public cloud, managing data has emerged as a central theme. And with it, databases are catapulted into the limelight. That includes simple transactional systems, but also large, fully integrated enterprise data warehouse (EDW) systems.

The data focus and the integration with other services will elevate the role of databases even further. And given their pivotal role, databases might very well become the kingmakers in the cloud wars.

Data has enormous gravity — so has the database

IT professionals know this: over time, applications move toward the data. For one, there are practical considerations. Large amounts of data can’t be moved around easily. But there are also process obstacles. Data security policies and governance limit how data can be shared and disseminated throughout the business.

Data gravity is not an abstract concept, however. It translates directly into the gravity of database systems. That is to say, applications and business processes move toward the database systems that manage the data assets. The more valuable the data, the stronger the gravity.

For Hyperscalers, this creates an opportunity. By replatforming an enterprise’s on-premise to their cloud, they create a force that pulls applications increasingly onto their cloud.

It even creates a flywheel effect. The value—and the gravity—of cloud databases intensifies over time as more and more data is managed by the system: as more data is housed in a cloud database, more applications an enterprise will deploy on that database to process the data. This in turn generates more data to manage.

Not all data is created equal though. Data warehouse systems are more valuable than simpler databases. A measure for the value of the database is its connectivity: stand-alone systems with only a handful of applications are less critical. EDWs on the other hand, to which every department is connected, are the most prized systems.

Databases have the strongest vendor lock-in in today’s IT

Getting the flywheel of data gravity going is however a non-trivial task. The initial move from an on-prem system to a modern cloud database is incredibly resource-intensive, time consuming and costly. Not because of the sheer amount of data. As a matter of fact, all cloud vendors have developed offerings that can transfer large amounts of data efficiently. It is the vendor lock-in of the incumbent system that needs to be overcome first.

This lock-in typically develops organically over many years. The more valuable the data is, the more business users want to use it and they access it using proprietary programming languages and APIs. With an increasing number of users, these APIs proliferate throughout the enterprise. Soon, usage of these APIs pervades all parts of the enterprise.

Today, databases may have the strongest vendor lock-in in all of IT. It may be even the single remaining critical vendor lock-in among all infrastructure components. Every other form of vendor lock-in on infrastructure has been broken over the past 20 years by virtualisation. There is server virtualisation, network virtualisation, and storage virtualisation, to name a few. Only database vendors have escaped this trend, up until now.

The database as kingmaker?

In all major enterprises, IT is built around a few central data platforms. By replatforming these select, critical data assets, Hyperscalers can position themselves well to capture the entire account. Data gravity will simply pull users and applications onto their cloud. Conversely, by losing out on any of these central data assets, they risk losing the entire account to their competitor.

However, among the data assets EDW’s have proven the most critical role. Coincidentally, in this category, Hyperscalers offer the most compelling cloud-based alternatives as compared to on-premises systems. This suggests that by replatforming data warehouses aggressively to their cloud, Hyperscalers will be able to beat out their competition.

Going after databases appears to be the most strategic investment cloud vendors can make at this time. The ROI of such a targeted land grab could pay enormous dividends over the course of just a few years. Their biggest challenge will be to break the vendor lock-in on the incumbent systems. If they can, database technology might very well be the kingmaker in the cloud wars.

Mike Waas is the founder and CEO of Datometry, a SaaS database virtualisation platform enabling existing applications to run natively on modern cloud data management systems without being rewritten. Mike has held senior engineering positions at Microsoft, Amazon, EMC, and Pivotal and is the architect of Greenplum’s ORCA query optimizer. He has authored over 40 peer-reviewed scientific publications in various areas of database research and holds over 50 patents.

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