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Couchbase's Bob Wiederhold: Riding High on Big Data With NoSQL

Couchbase's Bob Wiederhold: Riding High on Big Data With NoSQL

"We think that the infrastructure technology of the future is going to be open source. So it is not a surprise that all of the leaders in the NoSQL space are all open source companies. There are some companies that have proprietary software in the NoSQL market, but they have not gotten very much traction in the market. We see open source playing a huge role as the industry continues to grow."

By Jack M. Germain
07/30/13 5:00 AM PT

NoSQL might well be called "the little database engine that could." It is quietly proving it is on track as Big Data transitions to cloud-based data storage and management.

NoSQL is increasingly considered a viable alternative to relational databases, but it is still a relatively small category in a growing world of database technologies.

Bob Wiederhold
Couchbase CEO Bob Wiederhold

Despite its relative youth, software designed to handle non-Structured Query Language solutions is on the fast track to becoming a reliable and highly sought database solution. Most of the successful products providing these NoSQL database platforms, furthermore, subscribe to open source business models.

Take, for example, Couchbase, the company behind the development of the Couchbase open source project. It is a 100 percent open source structure following the Apache 2.0 license. As such, its source code is fully available.

The community version is packaged in a binary edition that's free to download and use. The enterprise edition is identical to the community edition but comes with technical support and expertise for a price, according to Couchbase CEO Bob Wiederhold. In this interview, LinuxInsider talks with Wiederhold about what makes NoSQL the next big thing in working with nonrelational databases that drive the expanding world of Big Data and cloud storage.

LinuxInsider: What is the scope of the NoSQL industry today?

Bob Wiederhold: NoSQL is a category name rather than a technology name. People generally talk about four technologies that fit into that category: Pure Key Value Database, Document Database, Column Database and Graph Database. Couchbase entered the market as a player in the Pure Key Value field, but the company now also handles Document Database.

LI: Why play in those two areas?

Wiederhold: The Pure Key Value and Document Database categories are coming together as one market. We think that those combined technologies will allow the biggest companies to be built in this space. These two categories cover the broadest set of use cases and therefore will drive the growth of the biggest companies compared to the other technologies' bases.

LI: What does that say about the viability of relational databases?

Wiederhold: Beyond that, I think that relational databases have dominated the scene for the last 40 years or so. Over the last few years more and more applications are Web and mobile applications that require easy scalability, very high performance and an ability to deal with unstructured and semistructured data. That is driving people to these new NoSQL technologies.

LI: NoSQL is a relative newcomer to the line of database options. Why is it getting so much attention now?

Wiederhold: The NoSQL industry is relatively small compared to the size of the US$35 billion-per-year database industry, but it is growing very fast. We believe it will make up a significant part of the database industry in the not-too-distant future.

NoSQL companies have only been providing products since 2010. By 2012 we saw a few companies using products on some small projects. Now what we are seeing happen is big companies and enterprises that have the experience with multiple technologies have had experiences with NoSQL technology that generally was very good. Now they are making strategic decisions to use NoSQL technologies and specific products on a much broader bases inside their companies.

LI: How much more of a shakeout period do you see happening with NoSQL technology?

Wiederhold: They are doing deep technical evaluations of the leading players, and they are making strategic decisions on which products to use. They are establishing much more strategic relationships with companies like Couchbase and doing much bigger deals. From my perspective that is very exciting for the industry. We see the NoSQL space growing dramatically over the next few years.

LI: What role does open source play in the database industry today?

Wiederhold: We think that the infrastructure technology of the future is going to be open source. So I think it is not a surprise that all of the leaders in the NoSQL space are all open source companies. There are some companies that have proprietary software in the NoSQL market, but they have not gotten very much traction in the market. We see open source playing a huge role as the industry continues to grow.

LI: What is driving that expected growth for open source?

Wiederhold: People like open source because they have the ability to use the free editions. That does a couple of things for users. One is it allows you to download it for free, use it, experiment with it in small scales. You can start to get comfortable with the technology. You do not have to decide if you want to buy an enterprise edition until you are ready to go into production with some bigger and wider use of the technology. The other aspect of it is comfort. If a company goes out of business, the source code will be available. There will still be a community of developers still working on that particular open source project. Those kinds of comforts associated with open source are important. I think for infrastructure software, obviously the infrastructure is going to be the foundation on which your software is residing. That comfort comes from knowing you will continue to get support if you want it.

LI: In developing Couchbase, how did you distinguish that platform from other open source database editions available in other communities?

Wiederhold: At a very high level, NoSQL in general differentiates itself from relational databases in three areas. One is easy scalability. The second is higher performance. The third is ease of development. NoSQL technologies are scale-out or horizontally scalable technologies, so if you need more capacity, you add another standard commodity machine. That is very different from a relational technology, which is a centralized scale up technology. That is one key differentiator on the scalability side.

On the performance side you generally can get much lower latency and much higher throughput using a NoSQL product than a relational-based product. Ease of development has mostly to do with the data model. You can think of relational databases as many interrelated tables of rows and columns. That kind of an approach works well for very structured information, but these days most of the information you are trying to store is semistructured or unstructured data. That kind of data fits much better with the kinds of data models that NoSQL handles.

LI: How is Big Data being used in connection with a NoSQL database?

Wiederhold: We are storing huge amounts of data, and increasingly that data is semistructured and unstructured data. Increasingly, even interactive applications are data-centric. For those applications to be successful in the market, they have to leverage data in a bigger and better way. They need very fast access to all of that data.

LI: What trends are disrupting the status quo of database use today?

Wiederhold: You mentioned one of these trends: Big Data. That is a major trend. The second major trend that drives NoSQL is what we call Big Users. When you have Web and mobile applications, the more that are connected to the Internet using these applications, the more smartphones and tablets are out there with people using them all day long. That constant usage is driving a very high and increasing number of simultaneous users that an application has to support, and that is a big trend. The final big trend is the move to cloud-based computing. In that scenario you are moving to three-tiered architectures.

LI: How does this movement to the clouds challenge the NoSQL technology?

Wiederhold: Well, the movement to the three-tiered Internet architectures cloud involves browsers and mobile devices connected over the Internet to the cloud, and then there is an application server tier and database tier that sit in the cloud. The movement to that is for virtually every application. That is driving a big need to NoSQL because that technology fits that model so well. So we see these big trends of huge data, Big Users and cloud-based computing all combining to provide this great opportunity for NoSQL in general.


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.


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