Treating Shared Databases Like APIs in a DevOps World

Simon Sabin, Principle Consultant at Sabin.io, spoke at WinOps 2017 conference on how to include database changes in a continuous deployment model. A key aspect when sharing databases across multiple services or applications is to treat them as APIs, from the perspective of the database owners.

Sabin suggested that mechanisms such as views, triggers and stored procedures can be used to change the database internal structure while keeping backwards compatibility with the applications data operations. He gave the example of migrating a credit card numbers table from plain text to encrypted, where the applications might still retrieve the numbers in plain text by querying a view while the actual table is now encrypted and decrypted via a trigger, as illustrated below:

The database respects an implicit contract/interface with the applications whereby internal changes (often required for performance, security and other improvements) should not impact the applications. Following the API analogy, breaking changes should be minimized and communicated with plenty of notice for applications to adapt and deploy forward compatible updates before the actual database changes. Such an approach is malleable to applying consumer-driven contracts for databases.

According to Sabin, this approach is needed to intermediate two distinct views when dealing with shared databases: application developers tend to see them as “dumb storage” while database administrators (DBAs) see them as repositories of critical business data. In an ideal world each application team would own their database and the team would include a DBA role, but this is often hard to apply.

When applications themselves require schema or other changes, Sabin advises reducing batch size (because achieving reliability and consistency in databases is a complex task) and applying one small change at a time, together with the corresponding application code change. The migration mechanism of choice (gold schema vs…

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