Azure – What is DBaaS

Want to know more about the technical background?

Azure Basics

DBaaS builds on the concept of PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and allows the customer to operate databases without having to manage the underlying infrastructure. The CSP (Cloud Service Provider – Microsoft) of a PaaS offers the possibility to use and develop an existing run-time environment or to configure a productive environment.

For DBaaS you are using solely PaaS services offered by Microsoft via the Azure platform. You can find detailed information about Azure here:

All services you are using are billed against so-called subscriptions. They can be described as credit cards but also include additional capabilities. Subscriptions can also be used to separate environments, activities and access. We use these capabilities on DBaaS to split the services to our customers and our engineering capabilities.

Subscriptions also act as Azure’s logical resource containers and every resource is allocated to a subscription. Microsoft also allows to manage multiple items within each subscription via resource groups. We use them to separate different purposes, e.g. automation and self service pieces are in a different group than the part which is storing the key data for encrypting your databases.

Below you can see an overview of all environments we are having. For you as a customer only the “Delivery” environments are important. This is where your data is hosted and where we ensure operation capabilities for the platform.

Azure SQL Managed Instances

The Azure SQL Managed Instances is a PaaS product offered by Microsoft. A company required a high-secure managed database service, which complies with all regulatory controls. If you are reading through Microsoft’s documentation, make sure to understand the difference between a Single Database, a Managed Instance and Elastic Pools, which are all offered as Azure SQL Database and differ significantly.

The Azure SQL Managed Instance offers the capability to host a managed SQL Server Instance with no access to underlying Infrastructure and Operating System. Operation processes like patch management are handled by Microsoft. Some regulatory processes are also outsourced, e.g. Microsoft handles Disaster Recovery tests.

The DBaaS team came up with a standard design for Azure SQL Managed Instance, the standard design includes the following features:

  • Full data-at-rest and data-in-motion encryption
  • Health monitoring with automatic incident ticket creation if problems occur with your database
  • Security configuration monitoring, which monitors actively each day the security configuration without exceptions
  • Integration of DB AD identities in SQL databases
  • Brokered access capabilities for privileged access
  • Access monitoring to prevent unintended access
  • Automatic backups for a minimum of 7 days – backups can be restored from any specific point-in-time
  • Regular clean up activities to keep the SQL instance smooth running

What is DBaaS?

DBaaS builds on the concept of Platform-as-a-Service and allows app teams to consume databases without having to manage the underlying infrastructure. The Cloud Service Provider (CSP) takes over a large part of the operational effort and is paid for it on a pay-per-use basis.

DBaaS is based on the native Azure SQL Managed Instance Service. With the DBaaS service, new SQL Server databases can now be provisioned within a few minutes and scaled-up/down dynamically based on capacity/performance requirements.

Our Service for you

With DBaaS databases, you don’t need to worry about infrastructure and database management tasks such as server provisioning, patching, setup, configuration, backups, or recovery. You can be compliant with policies on user access, privileged access, configuration management etc.

The DBaaS cost model is based on application level consumption used to drive dbAptio.

Why do we use a cloud service and not implement a solution on premise?

By using Azure cloud, we see cost and stability advantages. The CSP delivers a standard service globally enabling additional economies of scale to kick-in. 

The effort and knowledge that Microsoft can invest in its platform engineering is many times greater than the bank is able to invest. This combined with Microsoft owning all components in the stack from hardware, hypervisor, operating system & database software means they are also best placed to solve any bugs/issues that may arise in the end-to-end stack.

In addition with the PaaS model the CSP ensures all software in the stack is patched and maintained to latest versions and all hardware is refreshed regularly ensuring an evergreen process that takes significant operational workload and cost away from the company. This also benefits application teams from an audit perspective.

Will I get a SQL Server instance or a SQL Server database?

Application teams do not have access to the SQL Server instance itself but rather a database on the instance as the server needs to be managed and maintained to strict regulatory and security requirements.

Furthermore, many SQL servers within a typical Database estate are not efficiently utilized. CPU is underutilized and the available storage is often over-sized. By consolidating and actively managing databases on Azure instances, significantly better utilization and license footprint can be achieved, resulting in significant cost savings for the bank. This requires careful management at the SQL instance level.

Why should you use DBaaS?

Why should you use DBaaS? – DBaaS – Confluence

What is the cost of a database?

DBaaS is composed of several Azure services, the main one being Azure SQL Managed Instance. Additional services from Microsoft are used to ensure the security and functionality of the environment such as Azure Storage Accounts to store logs and manual backups, Azure Key Vault to securely store keys for database encryption etc.

Each of these services has a defined price and unit which is metered and billed on a monthly basis. These costs have been aggregated and structured as part of DBaaS product pricing into a simple flat cost per Database and a variable storage cost per GB of data consumed that is published in the product store with billing handled via an interface to dbApptio.

Does my database performance not suffer from the move into cloud?

When migrating databases to Azure instances, great care must be taken to ensure that the instances are not overloaded. To avoid these overloads, DBaaS implements both preventive and reactive measures.

Reactive measures include extending the number of cores of an instance or increasing the number instances. Both these actions can be quickly executed in the cloud but with cost implications for the company. In contrast, the implementation of preventive measures while taking longer to implement result in better cost outcomes for the company. DBaaS will be introducing application specific preventive recommendations that enable further performance and/or cost reductions. 

Multiple nodes of both compute and storage are maintained behind the scenes by Microsoft for each managed instance to ensure high availability. The respective SLAs will be governed and checked by the DBaaS team.

Are the databases safe?

The DBaaS places great emphasis on security. The MSSQL service is based on isolated Azure SQL Managed Instances which are dedicated to the customer. All data stored is encrypted using Microsoft TDE encryption (data at rest encryption). This ensures that all SQL server log-, data- and backup files are stored securely. The encryption keys are exclusively managed and controlled by the customer. All connections to SQL Managed Instances and the respective enabling services are encrypted and secured using TLS (data in motion encryption). 

In addition, DBaaS ensures only persons on-boarded using a companies Active Directory (AD) identity are able to access SQL Managed Instances. The passwords of users stay within the company and are not transferred to the cloud. Furthermore, access to databases is not possible from the Internet and they are only accessible from the network of the company.

Microsoft is required to keep the SQL Server instance, operating system, hypervisor, VM layers, and all other abstracted layers up-to-date, so that the latest security patches are always available. Microsoft has a monthly patch cycle or even more frequently for security patches.

When should DBaaS not be used?

When should DBaaS not be used? – DBaaS – Confluence

High storage needs

  • If your application is using more than 8 TB storage you should continue using on premise solutions.

Regulatory limitations

  • You have not yet obtained regulatory approval or provided regulatory notification (if required) before implementing a cloud strategy. DBaaS Governance, BISO, Compliance, and the Data Protection team can assist you in determining the Cloud Regulatory requirements for your application.
  • Your data has been identified by the Compliance and Risk Function as not eligible for migration into the cloud.

Data classification

  • When your database is handling strictly confidential data, you are not allowed to migrate to the cloud at this point in time. Additional features are being explored currently which would allow strictly confidential data to be moved to the cloud.

Application IS critical

  • When your database is classified as IS critical you need to wait until the on-boarding of DBaaS to CSO dbDAM (database activity monitoring) has been completed. We envisage this being resolved by end of 2020 and working to speed this up.

Operational boundaries

  • MS SQL Server
    • No linked servers other than MS SQL or ORACLE
    • No services from the underlying OS, like MSDTC, etc.
    • No Database Mail using more than 1 profile. No attachments using the @file_attachments parameter.
    • No access to fileshares or Windows folders of the underlying OS
    • No credentials other than SHARED ACCESS SIGNATURE (to access Azure BLOB storage) or Azure Key Vault
    • No SQL users. No Windows Accounts. Only Azure AD Accounts or groups.
    • No Database export/import other than BACPAC or bulk import from Azure BLOB storage
    • Table types not supported:
      • MEMORY_OPTIMIZED ? supported in business critical only
    • No distributed transactions
    • No external libraries (R, Python)
    • NO SSIS ? This is Azure Data Factory at a later stage
    • NO SSAS