Four companies rethink databases for the cloud

Several companies are developing new database technologies to solve what they see as the shortcomings of traditional, relational database management systems in a cloud environment.

Four of them described the approaches they're taking during a panel at the GigaOm Structure conference on Thursday.

The basic problem they're trying to solve is the difficulty of scaling today's RDBMS systems across potentially massive clusters of commodity x86 servers, and doing so in a way that's "elastic," so that an organization can scale its infrastructure up and down as demand requires.

"The essential problem, as I see it, is that existing relational database management systems just flat-out don't scale," said Jim Starkey, a former senior architect at MySQL and one of the original developers of relational databases.

Starkey is founder and CTO of NimbusDB, which is trying to address those problems with a "radical restart" of relational database technology. Its software has "nothing in common with pre-existing systems," according to Starkey, except that developers can still use the standard SQL query language.

NimbusDB aims to provide database software that can scale simply by "plugging in" new hardware, and that allows a large number of databases to be managed "automatically" in a distributed environment, he said. Developers should be able to start small, developing an application on a local machine, and then transfer their database to a public cloud without having to take it offline, he said.

"One of the big advantages of cloud computing is you don't have to make all the decisions up front. You start with what's easy and transition into another environment without having to go offline," he said.

NimbusDB's software is still at an "early alpha" stage, and Starkey didn't provide a delivery date Thursday. The company expects to give the software away free "for the first couple of nodes," and customers can pay for additional capacity, he said. Its product is delivered as software, rather than a service, but not open-source software, Starkey said.

Xeround aims to solve similar problems as NimbusDB but with a hosted MySQL service that's been in beta with about 2,000 customers and went into general availability last week, said CEO Razi Sharir. It, too, wants to offer the elasticity of the cloud with the familiarity of SQL coding.

"We're a distributed database that runs in-memory, that splits across multiple virtual nodes and multiple data centers and serves many customers at the same time," he said. "The scaling and the elasticity are handled by our service automatically."

Xeround is designed for transactional workloads, and the "sweet spot" for its database is between 2GB and 50GB, Sharir said.

Its service is available in Europe and the U.S., hosted by cloud providers including Amazon and Rackspace. While Xeround is "cloud agnostic," cloud database customers in general need to run their applications and database in the same data center, or close to each other, for performance reasons.

"If your app is running on Amazon East or Amazon Europe, you'd better be close to where we're at. The payload [the data] needs to be in the same place" as the application, he said.

Unlike Xeround, ParAccel's software is designed to run analytics workloads, and the sweet spot for its distributed database system is "around the 25TB range," said CTO Barry Zane.

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