Who would have thought databases would become one of the most thrilling areas of technology? A visit to Couchbase in Palo Alto, Calif., this past week reminded me of how NoSQL is shaking things up. It's early days, but after all this time, it's fascinating to see cracks spreading across the SQL monolith.
For years, technologists and businesspeople concurred: Oracle was the gold standard in databases. The Oracle Database had the most features and the highest reliability, and it crushed its rivals. Sure, the licensing fees reflected Oracle's dominance, but paying for the best was worth it.
[ Andrew C. Oliver answers the question on everyone's mind: Which freaking database should I use? | Also on InfoWorld: The time for NoSQL standards is now | Get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]
Those who couldn't afford Oracle could always turn to the open source alternative MySQL. It wasn't industrial-strength like Oracle, but as a back end for Web applications, MySQL became wildly popular (no doubt a big reason why Oracle bought Sun).
That was it: Your choice of heavyweight and lightweight SQL solutions . . . from the same company, once MySQL fell into Oracle's clutches. Of course there were alternatives -- from IBM DB2 to Microsoft SQL Server to PostgreSQL -- but the database realm was generally an uneventful place to be.
NoSQL is changing all that. I don't mean to say that NoSQL is currently a major threat to Oracle's business, at least not to the part that serves high-throughput, high-availability transaction environments. But for highly trafficked Web applications with many reads and few writes, NoSQL databases make a compelling case for themselves.
What type of SQL databases am I talking about? Mainly, key value pair and document databases, the benefits to both of which were capably explained to me by Couchbase CEO Bob Wiederhold last week. (For a full taxonomy of NoSQL database types, see the excellent article "Which freaking database should I use?" by InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver.)