Database guru Christopher J. Date is apparently accepting money from attendees to his seminars on TransRelational(TM) database archicture, so that he can tell them about an as-yet unreleased product from Required Technologies, Inc.
This is regrettable on multiple levels.
1. Required Technologies shut down product development in 2002, after running through $30 million; there’s great acrimony between investors and the CEO; and lawsuits are likely.
2. Required’s product never did most of what Date seems to be claiming it now does. It was a read-oriented columnar data store, much like Sybase IQ or a number of other products from younger companies.
The basic idea behind these products is like that of bitmapped indices, even if the actual implementation doesn’t use literal bitmaps, or indeed indices at all. To be competitive they generally need three things – good compression, decent updating, and a way to handle higher-cardinality columns. (Cases in which cardinality is low enough for true bitmapping to make sense are the exception, not the rule.) These products may also exploit the fact that a bitmapped index recreates all the information in the database, and hence you don’t have to keep two copies; the index effectively BECOMES the database. (Thus, Required’s claim not to have indices at all is one of the few parts of its story that is NOT ridiculous.)
This general product design is not all bad. Yes, it destroys update performance, but there are potential techniques to keep that problem bounded (e.g., with update staging tables that have a traditional row-based architecture). It seems to assume that you primarily want to store datatypes with concise values and a natural sort order (e.g. numbers, character strings), but other architectures share that flaw, and up to a point it could use the same workarounds they do. And it certainly can show much better query performance than a traditional row-oriented database, especially if the traditional database is poorly designed or deliberately unoptimized.
However, there’s no way that an essentially dead company can complete what would be a commercially useful product in this area. Unless a lot changes – a lot more than Date is evidently implying – Required isn’t going to be shipping something that can compete effectively with standard big-name DBMS products.
Date and Pascal should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
Some of the links below have references to “orders of magnitude” performance improvements over conventional systems, perhaps based on benchmarks. Even if that’s true, it proves very little. A benchmark of a prototype system shows almost nothing about performance in real world production situations.
Edit: A number of these have gone broken since the time of the original post
- Required’s phantom website – no content, except a West Coast address. Even the email contact form is busted.
- Required’s phantom site in 2003, per archive.org – same thing
- The company’s website in 2002 — it was located on the East Coast then
- An article perpetuating the myth – from the notoriously hype-filled dbdebunk.com
- Another article on the same site – this one is written by highly imaginative site owner Fabian Pascal himself
- DMOZ’s links for Required – patents and a detailed resume from the VP of Development
- A job ad from when Required actually was doing substantial development
- Date is apparently pitching this dream next week; presumably some portion of the hefty attendance fee can be ascribed to the day-long “privilege” of hearing this sales pitch
- Date’s financial interest in the company, as per yet another dbdebunk.com article, retracting a prior denial by the unreliable Mr. Pascal. But even the corrected version of the story probably understates the case. It says Date served on Required’s scientific advisory board on a “volunteer” basis. Much more likely is that he got stock or stock options.
Note: I am NOT under the delusion that the company stuck with the in-memory architecture it pitched to its inventors and disclosed in its patent, and which was the basis for an online debate about the disk-worthiness of the architecture within the past year. I’m relying on nonpublic — but thoroughly reliable — sources. When a company lays off that many people, it’s no big trick to, after the fact, figure out what it was doing.