Theory and architecture

Analysis of design choices in databases and database management systems. Related subjects include:

November 23, 2016

DBAs of the future

After a July visit to DataStax, I wrote

The idea that NoSQL does away with DBAs (DataBase Administrators) is common. It also turns out to be wrong. DBAs basically do two things.

  • Handle the database design part of application development. In NoSQL environments, this part of the job is indeed largely refactored away. More precisely, it is integrated into the general app developer/architect role.
  • Manage production databases. This part of the DBA job is, if anything, a bigger deal in the NoSQL world than in more mature and automated relational environments. It’s likely to be called part of “devops” rather than “DBA”, but by whatever name it’s very much a thing.

That turns out to understate the core point, which is that DBAs still matter in non-RDBMS environments. Specifically, it’s too narrow in two ways.

My wake-up call for that latter bit was a recent MongoDB 3.4 briefing. MongoDB certainly has various efforts in administrative tools, which I won’t recapitulate here. But to my surprise, MongoDB also found a role for something resembling relational database design. The idea is simple: A database administrator defines a view against a MongoDB database, where views: Read more

November 23, 2016

MongoDB 3.4 and “multimodel” query

“Multimodel” database management is a hot new concept these days, notwithstanding that it’s been around since at least the 1990s. My clients at MongoDB of course had to join the train as well, but they’ve taken a clear and interesting stance:

When I pointed out that it would make sense to call this “multimodel query” — because the storage isn’t “multimodel” at all — they quickly agreed.

To be clear: While there are multiple ways to read data in MongoDB, there’s still only one way to write it. Letting that sink in helps clear up confusion as to what about MongoDB is or isn’t “multimodel”. To spell that out a bit further: Read more

October 3, 2016

Notes on the transition to the cloud

1. The cloud is super-hot. Duh. And so, like any hot buzzword, “cloud” means different things to different marketers. Four of the biggest things that have been called “cloud” are:

Further, there’s always the idea of hybrid cloud, in which a vendor peddles private cloud systems (usually appliances) running similar technology stacks to what they run in their proprietary public clouds. A number of vendors have backed away from such stories, but a few are still pushing it, including Oracle and Microsoft.

This is a good example of Monash’s Laws of Commercial Semantics.

2. Due to economies of scale, only a few companies should operate their own data centers, aka true on-prem(ises). The rest should use some combination of colo, SaaS, and public cloud.

This fact now seems to be widely understood.

Read more

September 6, 2016

“Real-time” is getting real

I’ve been an analyst for 35 years, and debates about “real-time” technology have run through my whole career. Some of those debates are by now pretty much settled. In particular:

A big issue that does remain open is: How fresh does data need to be? My preferred summary answer is: As fresh as is needed to support the best decision-making. I think that formulation starts with several advantages:

Straightforward applications of this principle include: Read more

August 28, 2016

Are analytic RDBMS and data warehouse appliances obsolete?

I used to spend most of my time — blogging and consulting alike — on data warehouse appliances and analytic DBMS. Now I’m barely involved with them. The most obvious reason is that there have been drastic changes in industry structure:

Simply reciting all that, however, begs the question of whether one should still care about analytic RDBMS at all.

My answer, in a nutshell, is:

Analytic RDBMS — whether on premises in software, in the form of data warehouse appliances, or in the cloud – are still great for hard-core business intelligence, where “hard-core” can refer to ad-hoc query complexity, reporting/dashboard concurrency, or both. But they aren’t good for much else.

Read more

August 7, 2016

Notes on DataStax and Cassandra

I visited DataStax on my recent trip. That was a tipping point leading to my recent discussions of NoSQL DBAs and misplaced fear of vendor lock-in. But of course I also learned some things about DataStax and Cassandra themselves.

On the customer side:

Customers in large numbers want cloud capabilities, as a potential future if not a current need.

One customer example was a large retailer, who in the past was awful at providing accurate inventory information online, but now uses Cassandra for that. DataStax brags that its queries come back in 20 milliseconds, but that strikes me as a bit beside the point; what really matters is that data accuracy has gone from “batch” to some version of real-time. Also, Microsoft is a DataStax customer, using Cassandra (and Spark) for the Office 365 backend, or at least for the associated analytics.

Per Patrick McFadin, the four biggest things in DataStax Enterprise 5 are: Read more

July 19, 2016

Notes from a long trip, July 19, 2016

For starters:

A running list of recent posts is:

Subjects I’d like to add to that list include:

Read more

January 22, 2016

Cloudera in the cloud(s)

Cloudera released Version 2 of Cloudera Director, which is a companion product to Cloudera Manager focused specifically on the cloud. This led to a discussion about — you guessed it! — Cloudera and the cloud.

Making Cloudera run in the cloud has three major aspects:

Features new in this week’s release of Cloudera Director include:

I.e., we’re talking about some pretty basic/checklist kinds of things. Cloudera Director is evidently working for Amazon AWS and Google GCP, and planned for Windows Azure, VMware and OpenStack.

As for porting, let me start by noting: Read more

December 31, 2015

Oracle as the new IBM — has a long decline started?

When I find myself making the same observation fairly frequently, that’s a good impetus to write a post based on it. And so this post is based on the thought that there are many analogies between:

And when you look at things that way, Oracle seems to be swimming against the tide.

Drilling down, there are basically three things that can seriously threaten Oracle’s market position:

Oracle’s decline, if any, will be slow — but I think it has begun.

 

Oracle/IBM analogies

There’s a clear market lead in the core product category. IBM was dominant in mainframe computing. While not as dominant, Oracle is definitely a strong leader in high-end OTLP/mixed-use (OnLine Transaction Processing) RDBMS.

That market lead is even greater than it looks, because some of the strongest competitors deserve asterisks. Many of IBM’s mainframe competitors were “national champions” — Fujitsu and Hitachi in Japan, Bull in France and so on. Those were probably stronger competitors to IBM than the classic BUNCH companies (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell).

Similarly, Oracle’s strongest direct competitors are IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server, each of which is sold primarily to customers loyal to the respective vendors’ full stacks. SAP is now trying to play a similar game.

The core product is stable, secure, richly featured, and generally very mature. Duh.

The core product is complicated to administer — which provides great job security for administrators. IBM had JCL (Job Control Language). Oracle has a whole lot of manual work overseeing indexes. In each case, there are many further examples of the point. Edit: A Twitter discussion suggests the specific issue with indexes has been long fixed.

Niche products can actually be more reliable than the big, super-complicated leader. Tandem Nonstop computers were super-reliable. Simple, “embeddable” RDBMS — e.g. Progress or SQL Anywhere — in many cases just work. Still, if you want one system to run most of your workload 24×7, it’s natural to choose the category leader. Read more

December 10, 2015

Readings in Database Systems

Mike Stonebraker and Larry Ellison have numerous things in common. If nothing else:

I mention the latter because there’s a new edition of Readings in Database Systems, aka the Red Book, available online, courtesy of Mike, Joe Hellerstein and Peter Bailis. Besides the recommended-reading academic papers themselves, there are 12 survey articles by the editors, and an occasional response where, for example, editors disagree. Whether or not one chooses to tackle the papers themselves — and I in fact have not dived into them — the commentary is of great interest.

But I would not take every word as the gospel truth, especially when academics describe what they see as commercial market realities. In particular, as per my quip in the first paragraph, the data warehouse market has not yet gone to the extremes that Mike suggests,* if indeed it ever will. And while Joe is close to correct when he says that the company Essbase was acquired by Oracle, what actually happened is that Arbor Software, which made Essbase, merged with Hyperion Software, and the latter was eventually indeed bought by the giant of Redwood Shores.**

*When it comes to data warehouse market assessment, Mike seems to often be ahead of the trend.

**Let me interrupt my tweaking of very smart people to confess that my own commentary on the Oracle/Hyperion deal was not, in retrospect, especially prescient.

Mike pretty much opened the discussion with a blistering attack against hierarchical data models such as JSON or XML. To a first approximation, his views might be summarized as:  Read more

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