AWS launches Aurora cloud-based relational database engine

AWS launches an open-source relational database engine called Aurora at its re:Invent 2014 cloud conference

Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched AWS Aurora – a MySQL-compatible database engine for its relational database service, billed by analysts as a “database game-changer” – at its re:Invent 2014 user conference.

Aurora is an open-source database system that combines the speed and availability of high-end commercial databases but costs a tenth of Oracle, IBM and Microsoft database products, said Amazon.

AWS cloud chief Andy Jassy (pictured) told the 13,500 delegates: “Old relational database engines have punitive licensing terms, no flexibility, they are old and clunky and costly, they are less flexible, are proprietary in nature and lock users in.

“Cloud has become the new normal,” he said. “One question users ask me is whether there will ever be a new 'normal' for relational databases. Enterprises ask us if we can help them shift to something new.”

But one challenge has been to get the high-end functionality and reliability of proprietary systems from cheaper, open-source tools. “It is hard, not impossible,” Jassy said, adding that Aurora was built in secrecy over three years.

Aurora allows enterprises to run six million inserts per minute, and 30 million selects per minute. “That is really very fast,” said Anurag Gupta, general manager for Amazon Redshift at AWS. Gupta, the executive behind the Aurora service, is an ex-Oracle engineering vice-president.

“Aurora is significant,” IDC research manager Larry Carvalho told Computer Weekly. “It is led by a team of ex-Oracle people.”

The service is available for 29 cents per hour with no capital investment upfront, said Gupta: “We are trying to earn your business every hour every day.”

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Gupta said databases had been around for a long time and had been immensely valuable for enterprises – but could be improved. “They have been expensive and monolithic, running on expensive, monolithic mainframes managed by expensive, monolithic companies,” he said.

“Even today they are still super-complicated and super-expensive. We thought there has got to be a better way for databases – in the era where we have AWS scale and AWS cost structure – and so we built Aurora.”

The system provides commercial database engine standards of high-availability (99.99%) and replicates data six ways across three datacentre availability zones.

“Aurora is as durable, fault-tolerant and scalable as the most high-end, proprietary ones,” Gupta said.

Independent IT analyst Greg Schulz said Aurora could be “a game-changer”. 

“Amazon is making relational database management easier for enterprises. It has the potential to gobble up the market share of traditional database vendors such as Oracle and IBM,” he said.

Gartner distinguished analyst for cloud Lydia Leong agreed: "Middleware vendors – Amazon Aurora should put you on notice that AWS is thinking hard about how to get into your business,” she said.

AWS Aurora is currently available in preview only. “What AWS is essentially doing is taking all the layers of the database stack, commoditising it and offering it as a service,” said IDC’s Carvalho. “This enables AWS to do enterprise-grade database service at open-source cost. AWS is really redefining relational database services.”

Analysts billed Aurora as one of the most significant innovations from Amazon. It comes exactly two years after AWS released Amazon RedShift - its data warehousing product, which has become popular among enterprises such as the Financial Times.

Other services launched at AWS re:Invent 2014

Amazon launched further services at the cloud conference, including a free application deployment service called AWS CodeDeploy. It is a fully managed, high-scale deployment service available immediately.

“We looked at how we build and deploy software and applications and our highly-skilled engineering team have developed a deployment service called Apollo,” Jassy said.

“Until now, we have pushed 50 million deployments to Apollo – that is 95 deployments a minute. And we have just made it available for free to enterprise users, in the form of AWS CodeDeploy.”

The service will help enterprise IT minimise downtime and deploy large instances in groups. “There is also a centralised place to see the deployment activity, to see what’s successful or not in real-time – and kill the unsuccessful deployment or change it half way through,” Jassy said.

Gartner’s cloud computing research director Kyle Hingendorf said: “I have to applaud AWS for not charging extra for services like CodeDeploy. AWS has been consistent with this strategy.”

Amazon announced AWS CodePipeline, a continuous test and build service; and Amazon CodeCommit, a tool to help users manage code repositories.

Leaping cloud security and compliance hurdles

Jassy said data protection regulations, compliance and security continue to be the main hurdles for public cloud adoption. He said AWS is focused on building regional datacentre zones to help users move to the cloud while ensuring data stays in their geographical region.

“But security is also becoming a reason why some enterprise users are moving to the public cloud - AWS is compliant with ISO27001, it is HIPA-compliant and has public sector certifications,” he said.

Last week, AWS achieved ISO900 certification, a mandatory compliance qualification primarily for healthcare, aerospace and medical use. 

“But enterprises concerned about security will encrypt data. Once you encrypt data, nobody can touch you,” Jassy said, adding that, once encrypted, data can sit on a public cloud platform: “We offer several encryption features.” 

Among the security services available, users can manage security themselves, assign AWS to do it for them or use hardware security module (HSM) services.

“But users tell us all three options have challenges,” Jassy said. “When we manage security for them, they are worried about losing control and visibility. When they manage it themselves, they find the process complex and find it difficult to monitor key rotation without bringing the applications down. And HSM services work great, but they can be very expensive.”

As a response, AWS is releasing the Amazon Key Management service to make encryption and compliance easier. The tool provides one-click encryption and a centralised key management console, giving users visibility.

Jassy also announced AWS Config – a resource for service coding to help users get full visibility on all instances they have on AWS. “Understanding your full footprint on AWS will help you make key decisions to improve your IT – you can manage security, assign more or less storage resources for some applications, and even understand the relations between two resources,” Jassy said.

“This will help you replicate the strategies within your in-house premises.”

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