Meet Microsoft's 'planet scale' NoSQL database

Forget the name: Microsoft says DocumentDB is more powerful than Cassandra and has more paying users than MongoDB – and it’s not actually for documents.

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Given the strength of SQL Server in business, you might be surprised to learn that Microsoft has spent the last five years building a distributed NoSQL database – until you remember that services like Power BI, Bing and the Office Web apps face the same challenges as services like Netflix. They’re problems more and more enterprises have to deal with too: the deluge of data, the demands of mobility and the need for low latency even though you’re relying on cloud services.

That’s why Microsoft’s Dharma Shukla, who previously built key technologies like Windows Workflow Foundation (and worked on both Live Mesh and the never-shipped Courier tablet), has been developing Microsoft’s global-scale distributed database since the end of 2010.

DocumentDB, which launched in April 2015, emphasizes the fact that NoSQL really stands for “not only SQL,” because the aim is to give you the best of both worlds. According to Shukla, it has the scalability of NoSQL, the richness of SQL, the low latencies that you get from running on SSD-based clusters in 17 Azure regions around the world (soon to be 21) and the SLAs of a commercial Azure service, plus HIIPA and ISO compliance. It also offers integration with JavaScript for database programming and Hadoop for analytics.

As a cloud PaaS service, it avoids much of the complexity of configuring NoSQL databases yourself, and DocumentDB can even run MongoDB applications without any changes, as the service now exposes MongoDB APIs. That gives DocumentDB customers a way to try out DocumentDB apps on premise – and it also gives them a fast way to bring MongoDB apps to the cloud, as well as a way of avoiding for some of the security problems that MongoDB users have wrestled with. You’ll soon be able to bring applications from three other NoSQL systems – Cassandra, DynamoDB and HBASE.

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