The most interesting meeting by far that I attended last week was the one with NuoDB. This Bostonian startup is baking a potentially impressive DB platform aimed to overcome ordinary DB limitations while maintaining traditional ways to access data. The final goal is to obtain, as it’s written underneath their name, “The elastically scalable DB”. This is one of the few companies that are trying to do something radically new in this space and I think that they deserve, at least, a look!

What’s the problem?

Well, the problem with traditional DBs are many but I’m sure that you can get the right picture only when we talk about Cloud and Big Data: legacy enterprise databases, most of them with 30 years or more on their shoulders, weren’t designed for todays needs in terms of multi tenancy, workloads and scalability.
One of the first things that Barry Morris (CEO) said during the introduction of the company was: “new type of DCs are all about scale-out, virtualization and commodity HW. traditional DBs are not”. In fact many legacy DBs are struggling to achieve the level of performance and elasticity needed from modern applications (e.g.: Web and mobile applications with tons of simultaneous connections and transactions to the DB). Many web developers work with MySQL but it is a risky business: if your application meets the favor of the public, and you have to mange hundreds, thousands times or more the traffic of the first days, you’ll have to manage a lot of tricky measures to keep up your card castle.
Sharding and partitioning are commonly used techniques that help you if there isn’t a better solution. On the other side you can spend a lot of money on big irons and very costly software from few, well known and often hated, vendors. But, are rigid scale-in architectures at the core of cloud?
In few words, traditional DBs are no more aligned with modern business needs.

The NOn answer

Probably, If you are working with DBs you are already aware of the hype about NOSQL as a SQL alternative. The NoSQL DBs are being pushed by some cloud vendors and, indeed, they solve part of the problem (storing big amounts of data) but, the name speaks for itself, they aren’t SQL. Like it or not SQL is at the base of the vast majority of enterprise and web applications all around the world. NoSQL is a niche and maybe it will remain a niche. It adds complexity at the application level and it isn’t designed to manage transactions, which is not a minor problem (I don’t know about ACID compliant NoSQL DBs). I’m also not sure about the portability of NoSQL applications: because it’s relatively new and not 100% standard with a few different implementations out there.

Is NuoDB an answer?

NuoDB has been designed to be a scale-out, SQL, ACID compliant, multi tenant DB. You can deploy it on premise, on the cloud or on both at the same time with automatic geographic distributed active/active clustering to grant redundancy and live upgrades of the whole system!
The storage management is particularly fascinating, it has specialized nodes that could store DB data on files, Amazon S3 or HDFS and maybe others in the future.
I won’t go deep into the technical characteristics, they have a lot of documentation on their website, but I think that they did a great job implementing an in-memory transactions engine, smart caching techniques and efficient communications between nodes.

Does it work?

If you’re thinking that all the words written above are too good to be true I can’t blame you. The good thing here is that the the final product will be ready in a couple of months but you can already download the beta version (this free version is capable of building a two node cluster: good enough for most development and testing tasks). The only way to discover the truth is to test it. I also attended a nice demo during the meeting and I hope to have time to edit and share the video soon.

Few words on the team

The product has all the numbers it needs to succeed but the product itself is nothing without a great team that carries out the right strategy. Barry Morris (CEO) is clever and he has built a strong team involving some skilled investors too. The CTO, Jim Starkey, is a legend in the DB world while many of the investors and board members are former founders/CEOs of some of the most innovative DB companies in the ’90s. Not to mention some very smart “positive aggressive” style guys hired to manage sales.

Bottom line

Yes, they shocked me (but you know, I’m not a DB guy). Product, team and strategy are very well thought, now only time will tell us if execution will match the first three.
Their strategy isn’t to target only MySQL (that is also living its own crisis) but all the established DB industry: Enterprise DBs from Oracle and IBM are among their primary targets!
I also hope that they will maintain a free tier in their licensing model to boost a broad adoption amongst developers, SMBs and small LAMP-like deployments.

Disclaimer: I was invited at this meeting by Condor Consulting Group and they paid for travel and accommodation, I have not been compensated for my time and am not obliged to blog. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any other person than the Juku’s team.