What is Amazon RDS?

What is Amazon RDS?
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John Brandon explains how businesses can use AWS RDS for managing relational cloud databases.

One of the most mature and well-known cloud computing products is called Amazon RDS (Relational Database Service). Launched in 2009, the service is designed to store relational database instances in the cloud for access by applications and as a way to provide relational databases for analytics, reporting, and business dashboards within those apps.

To understand RDS, it’s important to take a step back and define a relational database. The concept was invented way back in 1970, and it’s essentially a way to store data in a format that is more useful and streamlined. A relational database consists of tables that can be interrelated -- the data is structured in a tabular form and each piece of data can use an identifier. Typically this involves a unique key, although as you can imagine, a database with multiple tables and thousands of rows with unique identifiers quickly becomes complex.

Because of the complexity of a large relational database, there are performance considerations to think about -- and other factors including scaling the relational database, accessing it from anywhere using any app, the security needed to protect the data, and the IT infrastructure required to support the database. Companies tend to use multiple relational databases as well.

That’s where Amazon RDS comes into play. Because RDS runs in the cloud as a service (and is part of Amazon Web Services or AWS), it provides both flexibility and scale. This helps companies as they grow, expand to other areas and provide additional services to customers. You can scale your business apps and the data without having to scale your infrastructure.

Benefits of RDS

Many of the benefits of using RDS are similar to the benefits of using the cloud. This includes the flexibility of where the relational database is stored, first and foremost. A company might offer a customer-facing application used on a smartphone or other mobile device, or an internal application for a large company that runs on an internal website. Users might need to access the relational database from a variety of devices, from many different locations, but the cloud makes the data accessible in a way that makes it seem like the data center is sitting right next to you.

That’s because Amazon RDS has one key advantage -- your IT staff do not need to manage it, or even have to get to grips with database design software, and the RDS can scale as your needs change. One example of how this works is when you compare a typical server in a data center to one in the RDS cloud. You might purchase a server with a set amount of memory, storage, and performance. Then, when you build an application that accesses the database on that server, you are stuck with the allocations you selected (or you have to manage them and adjust them). With RDS, the entire infrastructure is “serverless” in that it can adjust to your needs -- whether that is the performance needed, the memory, or the storage. And, this is something that can be automated for your database.

This is an important benefit for companies that may start out with only a few apps and a smaller relational database. Most companies expect to grow but some don’t know how to scale for the growth from a technical standpoint. Suddenly, a customer-facing app for iPhone or an Android app becomes incredibly popular or an internally designed and developed mobile app changes to meet the needs of quick expansion.

Important things to know

RDS is flexible in terms of scaling and how your users can access the databases from apps, but also in how you can use it. For example, you can use database software you already know and use to manage relational databases, including MySQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server. As your needs change, you can even scale up to a different service such as Amazon Aurora which provides even faster performance. Amazon RDS is part of a host of complimentary cloud computing services from AWS as well, such as EC2 for file storage.

As mentioned earlier, your staff doesn’t need to do all of the management chores, which can include the configurations needed, the adjustments for more performance or storage, the backups, and the security required to make sure your data is safe.

One last thing to know is about availability. In addition to the other benefits of Amazon RDS, including the scaling and configuration, your apps can reliably access the data -- it is always available because there is also a secondary instance of the relational database that is hosted in RDS in the event that the first instance should fail for any reason.

In the end, Amazon RDS mitigates against the main concern companies have when they develop apps in the first place, either for external use or for internal use. A relational database helps with performance and availability, but companies don’t have to constantly adjust their IT operations or even hire more staff to keep up with unexpected growth.

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.