Just because you can, doesn’t mean you

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One of the applications that is a shoe-in candidate for migration has a smalltime usage profile.  We are talking 4 hits/day.  No big deal, it’s a business process consideration.

It needs to interface with enterprise data, resident in our Banner database.  No worries there, the data this app needs access to is decoupled via web services.  Now lets swing our attention to the apps transactional data storage requirements.

First question – does it need any of the Oracle-specific feature set?  No.  So, let’s not use Oracle – no need to further bind ourselves in that area.  Postgres is a reasonable alternative.

OK, so, RDS?  Yes please – no need to start administering an Postgres stack when all we want to do is use it.

Multiple availability zones?  Great question.  Fantastic question!  Glad you asked.

Consider the usage profile of this app.  4 records per day. 4.  Can the recovery point/time objectives be met with snapshotting?  Absolutely.  Is that more cost-effective than running a multi-AZ configuration?  Yes.

Does it make sense for this application?


Thank you Amazon for providing a fantastic set of tools, and thank you to the #NDCloudFirst team for thinking through using those tools appropriately.

The Speed of Light

How fast is it really?  In the course I teach, students have the opportunity to interact with a database, taking their logical models, turning them into physical designs, and finally implementing them.

Up until this semester, I have made use of a database that is local to campus.  The ongoing management and maintenance of that environment is something which is of no particular interest to me – I just want to use the database.  Database-as-a-Service, as it were.  As in, Amazon Relational Database Service.

Lucky for us all, Amazon has a generous grant program for education.  After a very straight-forward application process, I was all set to experiment.

To baseline, I executed a straightforward query against a small, local table.  Unsurprisingly, the response time was lightning-fast.



Using RDS, I went ahead and created an Oracle database, just like the one I have typically used on campus.  After setting up a VPC, subnet groups, and creating a database subnet group, I chose to create this instance in Amazon’s N. Virginia Eastern Region.  Firing off the test, we find that, yes, it takes time for light to travel between Notre Dame’s campus and northern Virginia:



Looks like it added about 30 milliseconds.  I can live with that.

Out of curiosity, how fast would it be to the west coast?  Say, Amazon’s Oregon Western Region?  Fortunately, it is a trivial exercise to find out.  I simply snapshotted the database and copied the snapshot from the eastern region to the west.  A simple restore and security group assignment later, and I could re-execute my test:



Looks like the time added was roughly double – 60 milliseconds.

Is that accurate?  According to Google Maps, it looks like yes indeed, Oregon is roughly twice as far away from Notre Dame as Virginia.  The speed of light doesn’t lie.

So, what did I learn?  First, imagine for a moment what I just did.  Instantiate an Oracle database, on the east coast, and the west coast.  From nothing!  No servers to order, to routers to buy, no disks to burn in, no gnomes to wire equipment together, no Oracle Universal Installer to walk through.  I still get a thrill every time I use Amazon services and think about what is actually happening.  I can already see myself when I’m 70, regaling stories about what it was like to actually see a data center.

OK, deep breath.

Second, is 30 milliseconds acceptable?  For my needs, absolutely.  My students can learn what they need to, and the 30 millisecond hit per interaction is not going to inhibit that process.  It’s certainly a reasonable price to pay, especially considering there is nothing to maintain.

What is the enterprise implication?  Is 30 milliseconds going to be insufficient?  An obstacle that inhibits business processes?  We shall see.  For local databases and remote web/application servers, perhaps.  Perhaps not.

This is why we test, remembering that despite what a remarkably amazing toolset AWS represents, we are still bound by the speed limit of light.

AWS Midwest Region, anyone?

RDS Subnet Groups

If you are having issues finding your VPC when you are creating an RDS it is more than likely because you are missing an RDS Subnet Group. To remedy this problem simply traverse to RDS > Subnet Groups and click Create DB Subnet group. Make sure your subnet group spans all AZs.

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Posted in AWS

Enthusiasm – it’s contagious

I just interviewed a guy today for a position as a Ruby on Rails developer. This would be his first software development position, having previously worked as a customer service rep for an insurance company. His background includes a degree in film, so not your typical coder back story. He was a confident guy, well-spoken and quite personable. While speaking with him I could feel how excited he was at the prospect of continuing to work with the platform. But it wasn’t just what he would be doing, but also where he would be doing it. He complimented the campus (something you hear a lot about Notre Dame), was even happy about the color in the trees, but he stated that he couldn’t wait to help work on things that would influence change. To him working in a higher education setting, having the ability to impact the students and make a positive change for the world as a whole was quite invigorating.

I found myself coming out of that interview with a new energy for my position. I think too often we start to take for granted where we are in life, and forget to really appreciate what we are doing and the influence we can actually have in the world. I have a really cool career, get the opportunity to work with some really great people, and no matter how long the walk is in to work everyday the view is always incredible. So as we look to the future in our careers, trying always to get somewhere better, remember to take a moment and remember what made you so excited when you first started down the path you are on.