Posts Tagged ‘simpledb’

Amazon Web Services – SimpleDB Overview

April 22nd, 2009 1 comment


SimpleDB was Amazon’s first available (in beta) web service. It is a neat feature but it has its downsides. First, SimpleDB is not a relational database. It is a name/value key pair. For simple lookups, it is highly reliable and scalable. For anything more complicated, it falls apart.

SimpleDB is not ACID compliant and has not referential integrity. For that matter, it has not schemas, tables or relationships. Amazon says that it “eliminates the administrative burden of data modeling”. Some things make me say, “Hmmmmm.”

SimpleDB structures data somewhat like a spreadsheet. Think of columns across and values down. A particular column can have multiple values. I provide an example of SimpleDB data in Chapter 6.

Like everything else in AWS, SimpleDB is API based. There is no SQL access here. The APIs are very simple to use: CREATE creates a new domain (worksheet), you can GET, PUT and DELETE items (columns) and values (data), QUERY data or QUERYWITHATTRIBUTES (meta data).

Amazon does have a query language but it is strictly string based. You enter a key value (a key being the name of one of your key/value pairs) and then list possible values. There are simple operators that you can use.

SimpleDB is designed to store small volumes of data and is optimized for that. Amazon recommends that large files be stored in S3 and the pointer to those files stored in SimpleDB.


You pay for three things with SimpleDB: machine usage (executing queries), data transfer and persistent storage.

Machine usage is based on the requests made and the amount of time it takes to satisfy those requests. The CPU is based on the same criteria as an EC2 compute unit. It costs $0.14 per machine hour utilized. You start with 25 machine hours for free and start paying at the 26th hour.

Persistent storage was $1.50 per GB until Dec 2008. That was much more expensive than S3 or EBS. In late 2008, Amazon lowered the costs to a more reasonable $0.25 per GB. That is a significant change.

Data transfer is comparable to the other services: Data transfer in is $0.10 per GB, first 10TB out is $0.17, $0.13 for the next 40TB, $0.11 for the next 100TB and $0.10 for all data over 150TB.

For a limited time, at least until June 2009, the first 25 CPU hours and 1GB per month are free. This is designed to give people a chance to try out the service.

As a database guy, SimpleDB is a non-starter for me. It’s easy enough for me to install MySQL or Postgres (for free) or Oracle (if I want to pay for it) and scale those to almost ridiculous levels. SimpleDB does not provide the transactional consistency required for transaction processing (OLTP) not does it provide the access paths or any of the key features (except maybe partitioning) required in OLAP processing.

These prices are accurate as of the time of writing them. As always, verify before making a decision.

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