Necessity is the mother of NoSQL

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.

The importance of these two projects is highlighted by The NoSQL Family Tree, a graphic representation of the relationships between (most of) the various major NoSQL projects:

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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#1 M-A-O-L » Necessity is the mother of NoSQL on 04.21.11 at 3:53 am

[…] 451 group’s Matt Aslett argues that Necessity is the mother of NoSQL. Necessity is particularly relevant when looking at the history of the NoSQL databases. While it is […]

#2 Thomas on 04.25.11 at 2:48 pm

Matt – great assessment, as always. We’re seeing first hand, that necessity is absolutely driving innovation in this space. On your concerns over the “build vs. buy” approach taken by some end-users, I think this is (or was) related to some common factors: (1.) Many of the end-users noted above began building their systems before many NOSQL technologies had matured. In fact, many of the products now available were spawned from ideas originated from within these larger organizations who needed something relational/SQL products could not. (2.) There is also, within larger organizations, a mentality that often seeks to solve problems themselves first. We’ve seen this even in areas where existing technology was available, and probably better for them – because the culture internally is/was such that engineers wanted to do what engineers do – which is to build something to their exact specifications. I think that more robust alternative technologies are available, and the costs – and risks – associated with the “build your own” path are becoming more widely understood, you’ll see more end-users choosing something off the shelf. Open source gives the nice bonus of providing most of the framework, which can then be modified to suit the end-users’ particular requirements… but in other cases, where organization have decided not to do any engineering themselves, you’ll see commercial products often gaining a slight edge, due to product maturity, and the benefits of commercial support.

#3 The Necessity of NoSQL | DATAVERSITY on 04.26.11 at 1:19 pm

[…] Aslett of the 451 Group recently commented that necessity is one of the six key factors driving the adoption of alternative data management […]

#4 TechAxcess » Couchbase Wins $14M Round in Riding the NoSQL Wave on 08.17.11 at 11:11 am

[…] Matthew Aslett of the 451 Group, an analyst company, has been watching the database market and its newer technologies. He says the majority of NoSQL projects have surfaced “in response to the fact that the existing database products and vendors were not suitable to meet their requirements with regards to…scalability, performance, relaxed consistency, agility and intricacy.” […]

#5 The NoSQL vs. SQL hoopla, another turn of the screw! | The Elastic DBMS Blog on 04.05.12 at 10:55 am

[…] database. One must however marvel at the sheer number and diversity in these NoSQL solutions and necessity is no doubt the mother of NoSQL (link to Matt Aslett‘s blog), just as necessity was also the mother of the Object Database […]