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Necessity is the mother of NoSQLMatthew Aslett, April 20, 2011 @ 10:58 am ET
As we noted last week, necessity is one of the six key factors that are driving the adoption of alternative data management technologies identified in our latest long format report, NoSQL, NewSQL and Beyond.
Necessity is particularly relevant when looking at the history of the NoSQL databases. While it is easy for the incumbent database vendor to dismiss the various NoSQL projects as development playthings, it is clear that the vast majority of NoSQL projects were developed by companies and individuals in response to the fact that the existing database products and vendors were not suitable to meet their requirements with regards to the other five factors: scalability, performance, relaxed consistency, agility and intricacy.
The genesis of much – although by no means all – of the momentum behind the NoSQL database movement can be attributed to two research papers: Google’s BigTable: A Distributed Storage System for Structured Data, presented at the Seventh Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, in November 2006, and Amazon’s Dynamo: Amazon’s Highly Available Key-Value Store, presented at the 21st ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, in October 2007.
Not only were the existing database products and vendors were not suitable to meet their requirements, but Google and Amazon, as well as the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, PowerSet and Zvents, could not rely on the incumbent vendors to develop anything suitable, given the vendors’ desire to protect their existing technologies and installed bases.
Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, has explained that as far as Amazon was concerned, the database layer required to support the company’s various Web services was too critical to be trusted to anyone else – Amazon had to develop Dynamo itself.
Vogels also pointed out, however, that this situation is suboptimal. The fact that Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Amazon have had to develop and support their own database infrastructure is not a healthy sign. In a perfect world, they would all have better things to do than focus on developing and managing database platforms.
That explains why the companies have also all chosen to share their projects. Google and Amazon did so through the publication of research papers, which enabled the likes of Powerset, Facebook, Zvents and Linkedin to create their own implementations.
These implementations were then shared through the publication of source code, which has enabled the likes of Yahoo, Digg and Twitter to collaborate with each other and additional companies on their ongoing development.
Additionally, the NoSQL movement also boasts a significant number of developer-led projects initiated by individuals – in the tradition of open source – to scratch their own technology itches.
Examples include Apache CouchDB, originally created by the now-CTO of Couchbase, Damien Katz, to be an unstructured object store to support an RSS feed aggregator; and Redis, which was created by Salvatore Sanfilippo to support his real-time website analytics service.
We would also note that even some of the major vendor-led projects, such as Couchbase and 10gen, have been heavily influenced by non-vendor experience. 10gen was founded by former Doubleclick executives to create the software they felt was needed at the digital advertising firm, while online gaming firm Zynga was heavily involved in the development of the original Membase Server memcached-based key-value store (now Elastic Couchbase).
In this context it is interesting to note, therefore, that while the majority of NoSQL databases are open source, the NewSQL providers have largely chosen to avoid open source licensing, with VoltDB being the notable exception.
These NewSQL technologies are no less a child of necessity than NoSQL, although it is a vendor’s necessity to fill a gap in the market, rather than a user’s necessity to fill a gap in its own infrastructure. It will be intriguing to see whether the various other NewSQL vendors will turn to open source licensing in order to grow adoption and benefit from collaborative development.
NoSQL, NewSQL and Beyond is available now from both the Information Management and Open Source practices (non-clients can apply for trial access). I will also be presenting the findings at the forthcoming Open Source Business Conference.
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