Picking a database is a long-term commitment, whether for an application or a data warehouse project.

The database is the foundation of your application and provides secure storage and access to all of your information. And without data, you don’t have much of an application.

This article will focus on operational databases, those designed mainly for application or microservices development. Even with that segmentation, there are still hundreds of database choices on the market. If you are looking at Database-as-a-Service, this narrows your options as not all vendors offer their products as a fully managed service.

Depending on the database you choose, it will either be easier or harder to build different functionality into the app and evolve it over time. Some databases provide very specific capabilities, while others are more broad and flexible.

Cloud providers like AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure offer a variety of DBaaS offerings, each focused on specific capabilities. Sometimes that selection can be more confusing than helpful. The good news is choice means more options for you to find a great DBaaS.

DBaaS Criteria

Many cloud databases on the market offer common features that are all different in some way. So here are a few areas to think about in your search.

Data Structure

Relational database management systems (RDBMSs) were designed to store data very efficiently, which comes at the cost of a fixed and predefined structure. While efficiency of course has its advantages, in a modern agile development model, where applications and microservices change very rapidly, that rigidity is often a negative aspect.

Being forced to change the database schema every time the app requirements change takes time away from development. NoSQL databases don’t force that restriction, giving developers more flexibility to evolve products faster. Additionally, the best NoSQL databases support transactions, while still maintaining flexibility overall.

Query Patterns

The most common query language across all types of databases is Structured Query Language (SQL). It has been in use for decades due to the influence of relational databases and the usefulness of the language itself. It is easy to read/understand and powerful in its flexibility.

That said, there are other ways to fetch data such as key-value gets for simpler and often faster data retrieval. Fuzzy search queries, also known as full-text search, can be a very useful database feature, providing search functionality for users within applications.

Another option rising in popularity is GraphQL, which works with highly connected datasets. Depending on the combination of needs (present and future), ensure your DBaaS has your querying needs covered. It should also come with a software development kit (SDK) for different popular programming languages.


The popularity of relational databases is partially attributable to ACID property support. ACID, which stands for atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability, ensures the protection and accuracy of data transactions. With modern applications, there was a growing need for speed without the need for transactions, and NoSQL databases relinquished ACID in favor of eventual consistency.

Today, many NoSQL databases offer some sort of a blend of strong consistency (ACID) and eventual consistency, giving developers more flexibility in how they build their applications. Therefore, it is important to understand the spectrum of your needs in terms of ACID requirements and how that aligns with a particular provider.

Deployment Options 

With DBaaS, there is a lot less work in deployment compared to a self-managed system. It should provide the database and all the resources that are needed to support it, and the service should be able to scale with minimal downtime. Therefore, you need to think about your cloud provider choices, regions and configuration options for availability needs.

Additionally, in the broader development timeline, what are the other options of the database platform? Is there a downloadable version available to build a minimal viable product on? What if you need to switch gears and deploy on-premises? Knowing all the options upfront can save a major misstep in the future.


As mentioned earlier, there are a huge number of databases on the market. Some of them will rise and fall in popularity; picking one may work in the short term, but may burn you in the long term. Sometimes selecting a more mature product can bring many benefits you may not need or realize upfront, but you will be thankful for later. A mature product often offers better stability, support and flexibility.

High Availability and Disaster Recovery

Who wants their database to go down? No one, of course. Depending on how complex your data requirements are in terms of the number of users, data volumes, geographies to cover, etc., you will need to understand how your DBaaS handles high availability and disaster recovery. Some are better than others in terms of core architecture and disaster recovery options. And often there will be additional costs to ensure you have the guaranteed uptime you need.


Easy and automated scaling is something all DBaaS offerings should do, but there are different ways in which they work. Some DBaaSes scale in a serverless model, on a pay-per-use basis, with autoscaling. This can make life easy, but also costly if things grow way beyond expectations. Provisioned models also offer flexible scaling, with a bit more work, but include additional control over things like CPU cores, memory, storage capacity and more. All these features should never require changes to the application.

Mobile and Edge Capabilities

Will your DBaaS need to sync data to a mobile or edge application? How will data sync be handled? Does the mobile app need to run without network connectivity? These are the type of questions to think about when considering a mobile embeddable database, which can help make your app offline-first.


Security is an ongoing battle between organizations and hackers. Ensure that your DBaaS vendor provides sophisticated, multilayer security technologies and 24/7 monitoring. Systems should include things like private networking and encryption while data is both at rest and in flight. Often DBaaS vendors will provide detailed whitepapers on their Trust Center web pages.


Cost is always a factor when choosing a database. While some DBaaS offer a very basic free tier, that would not be enough for a real application. So you must think about the total cost of ownership (TCO) and how to balance that out against read/write performance needs, overall capabilities and total users that can be supported as the system scales.


There are many factors like speed, flexibility, time to market and costs to consider when choosing a DBaaS to ensure it aligns with your application requirements. Choosing the right cloud database platform is not easy. To support important applications, many enterprises choose Couchbase to improve resiliency, performance and stability, while reducing risk, data sprawl and total cost of ownership. That’s why 30% of the Fortune 100 manage critical data with the Couchbase database platform.

Try Couchbase for yourself today with our free trial.


Posted by Tim Rottach, Director of Product Line Marketing

Tim Rottach is Director of Product Line Marketing at Couchbase.

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