What is a serverless data platform

Xata is a new type of Cloud service: it combines multiple types of stores (relational database, search engine, analytics engine) into a single service. The combined functionality is exposed over a single consistent API. It is also vertically integrated: an advanced admin UI and high-level SDKs come into the package.

We call this type of service a Serverless Data Platform.

Serverless Data Platform
Serverless Data Platform

This type of service has several benefits:

  • it simplifies building applications, thanks to its vertical integration and serverlessness
  • it offers more data-related functionality than a typical database, for example, free-text-search with relevancy controls, and more advanced analytics
  • it grows with you, in both scale and required functionality because it is based on proven data technologies, each best-in-class for the problems they solve.

Currently, the Xata service uses PostgreSQL as the data store, Elasticsearch as the search/analytics engine, and Kafka for storing the logical replication events. It also offers support for edge-caching. You can read more about how Xata works in this document and a more detailed explanation of the serverless aspect in this blog post.

In the future, we plan to also add built-in support for centralized caching (for example, Redis), block storage, better support for sharding between DBs, automatic global distribution, and so on.

This type of data architecture, where a relational DB is used as the primary store and the data in it is replicated in other more specialized stores (search engine, data warehousing, business intelligence systems, etc.) is very popular among companies over a certain size. However, it requires significant amounts of glue code, operational overhead, monitoring, and expertise. Not anymore, Xata packages it all in a single opinionated service.

Backend-as-a-Service type of service is similar because it also offers the functionality of a serverless DB with more services on top of it. Firebase popularized the model already more than 10 years ago, and more recently players like Supabase, AppWrite, NHost, and others are offering open-source BaaS.

The difference is the type of functionality that is added on top: BaaS typically try to add all the functionality that an app needs: hosting, authentication, push notifications, block storage.

A Serverless Data Platform, on the other hand, is focused on adding data-related functionality, like free-text-search, advanced aggregations, caching, block storage, and so on. It doesn’t provide things like hosting, authentication, or push notifications, but it integrates nicely with platforms like Vercel, Netlify, or Cloudflare pages, as well as other authentication providers.

BaaS versus Serverless Data Platform
BaaS versus Serverless Data Platform

Because BaaS typically provide built-in authentication and row-level-security rules, it is possible to write strictly the client side of the application, and write no backend code at all (hence the name). This can be great for small projects because they get everything from a single provider, but as the projects grow in requirements and scale, some serious challenges appear:

  • security rules become more complex and they are better implemented and maintained in code
  • each sub-service in the BaaS (hosting, authentication) is relatively shallow compared to dedicated providers
  • there is significant functionality overlap between what the BaaS offers and what modern full-stack web frameworks offer

This causes a lot of product teams to move away from BaaS when they grow past a certain scale.

Since Firebase started more than 10 years ago, a new wave of developer-oriented products appeared and the whole serverless wave started. We now have full-stack frameworks like Next.js and platforms like Vercel and Netlify which offer fantastic developer experiences with their git-based workflows. Modern dedicated authentication and identity management services like Clerk, Stytch, or Auth0 are also easily accessible today. As a Serverless Data Platform, Xata fits very well into this growing Jamstack ecosystem.