After nearly 30 years of ruling the roost, relational databases are having to share their turf with their non-relational cousins. The biggest and best of these "NoSQL" databases are open source. I had a chance to speak with James Phillips, co-founder and SVP of products of Membase, one of the most successful NoSQL databases out there. Below is our 12 minute or so conversation on this fairly new, but very big and successful technology where open source is ruling the roost.
You may not have heard of Membase. The company was previously known as NorthScale. It was only founded in 2009. Membase has attracted some top tier venture money from such firms as Accel Partners and a strategic investment from on line gaming powerhouse, Zynga. The Zynga investment should be no surprise as Membase is the database that powers such Zynga hit as Farmville and Mafia Wars.
Phillips says that the term NoSQL is a bit of misnomer. It actually refers to the fact that NoSQL databases are non-relational. Most of the databases we use today like Oracle, MS SQL or MySQL are relational in that the records or data is stored in tables which can be distributed across clusters. In a NoSQL database the record is stored intact. While in relational databases you can use less storage by breaking up records, in NoSQL bases records and data are sometimes duplicated. While this means that you need more storage space, it also allows more read and writes to happen in a faster period of time. Concurrency is what drives the NoSQL adoption rate. In the case of Membase, you can a half million read/writes a second.
This scalability is what is so attractive to companies like Facebook, Zynga and Twitter. They have led the NoSQL push. The NoSQL databases are part of the same ecosystem that is driving other massively scalable programs like Hadoop and eCache. Together these programs which are all open source based allow the tens of millions of users that are on at any one time on many of the social media platforms we all use.
That is not to say that the SQL, relational database is going the way of the dodo bird. Phillips says that the SQL DB will always have a place in the market. A hybrid model that uses NoSQL for some models and relational database for others is probably best. So don't throw away your Oracle stock just yet.
The other big NoSQL database is the Cassandra project, originally started by Facebook. Recently a commercial company out of Austin with the backing of cloud provider Rackspace called Riptano has formed to offer Cassandra as a commercial product. Cassandra and Membase are competitive, though they each take a slightly different approach. So now two open source NoSQL databases are competing in this new, huge market to service the social networks and massive platforms that we are all using. What a great day for open source databases!