Not so fast, NoSQL -- SQL still reigns

Developer survey shows SQL databases are going strong, and NoSQL is the accompaniment, not the replacement

To SQL or to NoSQL? That's been a common question ever since NoSQL databases started to make their mark with developers a few years back. Thanks to high-profile success stories like Netflix, NoSQL seemed like the better way to deal with the data loads of the future.

But the hard truth is that SQL and NoSQL both provide features the other doesn't, with SQL most valuable where consistency of data is required. A new survey of database use called "Database Usage in the Public and Private Cloud: Choices and Preferences," conducted and published by Tesora, shows that SQL and NoSQL are being used side-by-side rather than one eclipsing the other.

The survey was conducted across 500 respondents in the "North American developer communities," from companies that defined themselves as "early adopters of new technology." Tesora wanted to get an idea of how those companies are working with DBaaS (database as a service) technologies and OpenStack, but the survey also provided a view into how they used databases generally.

When it comes to which database technologies are currently in use at the participating companies, the results featured established commercial products like Microsoft SQL Server (57 percent) and Oracle (38 percent), as well as open source options like MySQL database (40 percent) and PostgreSQL (13 percent).

Respondents also hinted at the rarity of NoSQL adoption. While 79 percent used some form of relational database, only 16 percent went with some form of NoSQL. Even the biggest names in the NoSQL space -- MongoDB and Hadoop -- were in use with only 10 and 8 percent, respectively, of the respondents.

DBaaS also showed only a modest degree of uptake. Around 52 percent of those polled were "likely" or "very likely" to use DBaaS in a private cloud, but only 21 percent of those polled planned to implement private-cloud DBaaS over the next two years (10 percent already had it implemented). A third of those interested in using DBaaS were also interested in consuming a NoSQL solution in that form.

When respondents were asked what database solutions they were "likely" or "very likely" to use, SQL Server and MySQL both came in at 64 percent, and Oracle, amazingly, clocked in at around 42 percent. That number is close to what the survey reported for existing Oracle use, likely a reflection of Oracle customer lock-in. Among those who were asked what NoSQL solution they would likely use, the results followed the same proportions as existing usage: MongoDB and Hadoop in the lead, with 62 percent and 59 percent respectively.

The gap between conventional SQL and NoSQL databases has been narrowing over time with the addition of SQL querying for NoSQL systems, such as Splice Machine. But not everyone thinks the divide between the two can, or should, close over completely.

Michael Stonebraker, founder of the open source in-memory relational database solution VoltDB and an influential figure in relational database design overall, believes that the push to make NoSQL systems more like SQL will simply end with the former recapitulating the latter's technology. "The Hadoop stack," he said in a recent interview, "is converging on what parallel database systems have looked like all along."

This story, "Not so fast, NoSQL -- SQL still reigns," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.