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Who Will Win the Database Wars? Relational vs NoSQL Database Models

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 This is the fourth installment in the Who Will Win the Database Wars series which analyzes the most significant areas of database vendor competition. In addition to this comparison, the series also includes the following competitive assessments:

Most database pros are aware that the era of the one-size-fits-all database has been over for some time. We realized that not all of the data our shops are required to store, process and present to their end user communities neatly fits into relational rows and columns.

The need to store unstructured data, in conjunction with the ability to provide almost absurdly high degrees of scalability, data distribution and availability were the business drivers behind the genesis of NoSQL offerings. Many of the NoSQL products were specifically designed to leverage low-cost hardware to provide the ability to store semi and non-structured data and provide extremely high horizontal scalability and data redundancy at an affordable price point.

Document, graph, key-value, wide column and other non-structured data storage technologies became viable, competitive offerings because they offer a solution to the business community’s need to store semi and non-structured data. This rapidly expanding group of product offerings allows IT consumers to custom tailor a database architecture that meets each application’s unique storage and processing requirements.

The supposition that relational and NoSQL models are competitors, in that they are viable replacements for each other for most implementations, is erroneous. We can assume that, as with most data store technologies, there will be varying degrees of overlap in some areas of application. We can also assume that the larger competitors will not sit idly by and have their market share stolen by these upstart offerings.

 
Who Wins the Database Model Wars - NoSQL or Relational?

 WINNER - Relational Vendors Will Win by Becoming “Multi-Model.” BigFish.png

It is important to note that in this installment of the series we are comparing vendors, not technologies. Those of us who have been tasked with comparing competing market offerings are aware that the vendor with the best technology doesn’t always win the battle for market share or even survive as a viable competitor for that matter. This especially rings true when those vendors are up against offerings provided by much larger and more entrenched competitors.

As the NoSQL model continues to mature, it will become more robust, more intelligent and more standardized. As a result, NoSQL’s adoption rate will continue to grow, as does any technology that possesses these traits. The result will be that NoSQL, as a class of database architectures, will increasingly challenge their relational model counterparts. Although the NoSQL architectures will continue to grow in market acceptance, the vendors that initially offered them may not.

Their larger relational competitors, including Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, will attempt to co-opt any NoSQL technology that challenges their dominant role in the industry. As they identify offerings as tangible threats, their strategy will be to ensure that the technologies used by those vendors become a component of, not a replacement for, their traditional database products. The key to their continued dominance will be their ability to identify and seamlessly integrate technologies that are destined to become more widely adopted vs those that will continue as niche offerings.

NoSQL vendors that use data storage and access techniques that are easily integrated into a competitor’s product will be the first to be consumed. These smaller vendors will be required to constantly innovate and integrate new features that differentiate their products from their larger competitors. This constant differentiation will be an absolute requirement, not a guarantee, for their continued ability to survive.  

Those vendors that have niche offerings with limited market appeal or have complex processing architectures (Datastax/Cassandra is an example of a fairly complex architecture) will be less attractive to their larger competitors and have the greatest chance of surviving future market consolidations.

In addition, there will be additional NoSQL vendors that will survive. They will remain as viable alternatives but not because of the superiority of their architecture and feature sets. The reason will be because their offerings consist of a unique storage model that is also open source, a combination which will allow them to be viewed as attractive, cost-effective alternatives to commercial products. See the final round of this series that provides a competitive analysis of open source vs commercial database systems.

Database Wars Series, Tips from the Oracle Ace

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