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Compelling Use Cases for SimpleDB

SimpleDB is not a replacement for relational databases. You need to give careful consideration to the type of data storage solution that is appropriate for a given application. This section includes a discussion of some of the use cases that match up well with SimpleDB.

Web Services for Connected Systems

IT departments in the enterprise are tasked with delivering business value and support in an efficient way. In recent years, there has been movement toward both service orientation and cloud computing. One of the driving forces behind service orientation is a desire to make more effective use of existing applications. Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) has emerged as an important standard for message passing between these connected systems as a means of enabling forward compatibility. For new services deployed in the cloud, SimpleDB is a compelling data storage option.

Data transfer between EC2 instances and the SimpleDB endpoint in the same region is fast and free. The consistent speed and high availability of SimpleDB are helpful when defining a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between IT and business units. All this meshes with the ability of EC2 to scale out additional instances on demand.

Low-Usage Application

There are applications in the enterprise and on the open web that do not see a consistent heavy load. They can be low usage in general with periodic or seasonal spikes—for instance, at the end of the month or during the holidays. Sometimes there are few users at all times by design or simply by lack of popularity.

For these types of applications, it can be difficult to justify an entire database server for the one application. The typical answer in organizations with sufficient infrastructure is to host multiple databases on the same server. This can work well but may not be an option for small organizations or for individuals. Shared database hosting is available from hosting companies, but service levels are notoriously unpredictable. With SimpleDB, low-usage applications can run within the free tier of service while maintaining the ability to scale up to large request volumes when necessary. This can be an attractive option even when database-sharing options are available.

Clustered Databases Without the Time Sink

Clustering databases for scalability or for availability is no easy task. If you already have the heavy data access load or if you have the quantifiable need for uptime, it is obviously a task worth taking on. Moreover, if you already have the expertise to deploy and manage clusters of replicated databases, SimpleDB may not be something you need. However, if you do have the experience, you know many other things as well: you know the cost to roll the clusters into production, to roll out schema updates, and to handle outages. This information can actually make it easier to decide whether new applications will provide enough revenue or business value to merit the time and cost. You also have a great knowledge base to make comparisons between in-house solutions and SimpleDB for the features it provides.

You may have a real need for scalability or uptime but not the expertise. In this case, SimpleDB can enable you to outsource the potentially expensive ongoing database maintenance costs.

Dynamic Data Application

Rigid and highly structured data models serve as the foundation of many applications, while others need to be more dynamic. It is becoming much more important for new applications to include some sort of social component than it was in the past. Along with these social aspects, there are requirements to support various types of user input and customization, like tagging, voting, and sharing. Many types of social applications require community building, and can benefit from a platform, which allows data to be stored in new ways, without breaking the old data. Customer-facing applications, even those without a social component, need to be attentive to user feedback.

Whether it is dynamic data coming from users or dynamic changes made in response to user feedback, a flexible data store can enable faster innovation.

Amazon S3 Content Search

Amazon S3 has become a popular solution for storing web-accessible media files. Applications that deal with audio, video, or images can access the media files from EC2 with no transfer costs and allow end users to download or stream them on a large scale without needing to handle the additional load. When there are a large number of files in S3, and there is a need to search the content along various attributes, SimpleDB can be an excellent solution.

It is easy to store attributes in SimpleDB, along with pointers to where the media is stored in S3. SimpleDB creates an index for every attribute for quick searching. Different file types can have different attributes in the same SimpleDB domain. New file types or new attributes on existing file types can be added at any time without requiring existing records to be updated.

Empowering the Power Users

For a long time, databases have been just beyond the edge of what highly technical users can effectively reach. Many business analysts, managers, and information workers have technical aptitude but not the skills of a developer or DBA. These power users make use of tools like spreadsheet software and desktop databases to solve problems. Unfortunately, these tools work best on a single workstation, and attempts at sharing or concurrent use frequently cause difficulty and frustration; enterprise-capable database software requires a level of expertise and time commitment beyond what these users are willing to spend.

The flexibility and scalability of SimpleDB can be a great boon to a new class of applications designed for power users. SimpleDB itself still requires programming on the client and is not itself directly usable by power users. However, the ability to store data directly without a predefined schema and create queries is an enabling feature. For applications that seek to empower the power users, by creating simple, open-ended applications with dynamic capabilities, SimpleDB can make a great back end.

Existing AWS Customers

This chapter pointed out earlier the benefits of using EC2 for high-bandwidth applications. However, if you are already using one or more of the Amazon Web Services, SimpleDB can be a strong candidate for queryable data storage across a wide range of applications. Of course, running a relational database on an EC2 instance is also a viable and popular choice. Moreover, you would do well to consider both options. SimpleDB requires you to make certain trade-offs, but if the choices provide a net benefit to your application, you will have gained some great features from AWS that are difficult and time consuming to develop on your own.

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