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PlanetScale grabs YouTube-developed open-source tech, promises Vitess DBaaS with on-the-fly schema changes

Demand growing for scale-y transactional monster, say analysts

YouTube-developed distributed relational database Vitess is getting a DBaaS makeover, putting it in the hands of developers without having to worry about engaging with a DBA.

Based on MySQL, Vitess is used by the likes of Slack, Airbnb and GitHub for its horizontal, globally scalable OLTP architecture. But it has not always been the easiest thing for developers to get to grips with.

Sam Lambert, chief product officer at PlanetScale, the company behind Vitess, told The Register: "They built for Vitess MySQL. It's got a sharding and orchestration layer that means you can go to an enormous scale: we're talking about running on 10,000s of servers.

"Most cloud tools at the moment, when you provision a database, they ask you about server clusters, how many CPUs you want, how many V CPUs you want and so on. It's kind of crazy, but you have to spend all your time doing this," said the former GitHub veep.

To crack this problem, PlanetScale is, you guessed it, building a proprietary DBaaS on the open-source Vitess database. While the market has seen a flurry of DBaaS offers from fellow MySQL cousin MariaDB as well as NoSQL databases, this one is different in that developers can create a branch of their database, as they would with code in Git. It also allows users to make schema changes when they have already provisioned the database.

"A real pain for developers is changing schemas; that's the reason people went to these NoSQL data stores. Managing a schema is difficult and it's kind of painful. We wanted to make that so extremely simple that you don't get the nasty trade-offs of a NoSQL database, you get MySQL with Vitess, and you get the ability to change schemas," Lambert said.

The subscription model charges only for queries, and storage consumption, he said.


Matthew Aslett, research director for data, AI and analytics with 451 Research, said there was demand for scale of the level Vitess is capable of growing. While a minority of organisations uses distributed databases at the moment, the majority are considering doing so in the next year, he said.

"There are loads of different approaches to sharding and it's a complex issue. They're using their expertise in the test [to] deliver their service, not as a database sharding service but as database-as-a-service. I think that will help them take care of that complexity, but mask it from the user," he said.

Aslett said that although not all developers would need the scale required by companies like Google's YouTube, it could be a good offer to developers "laying the foundations for when [applications need] that level of scale."

Carl Olofson, Gartner research vice president, said there was increasing demand for a scalable transactional database. "Data volumes have been exploding, and developers are looking for ways to incorporate more different kinds of data, from different sources, into their processing."

If the DBaaS performed as the vendor claimed, it could excite the market, he said. "Before this, PlanetScale was available in the cloud, but with considerable assembly required. Now, they are announcing a fully managed database service. If they are really offering frictionless database schema evolution and data scalability, as they seem to claim, it will attract a lot of attention."

But he said users should be wary of big bills from cloud platform providers if implementers overlook the infrastructure costs of scaling up the system.

Vitess was donated to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation in February 2018. In 2019, PlanetScale got backing from none-other-than Netscape legend Marc Andreessen, in a $22m round from his VC outfit Andreessen Horowitz. ®

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