11 questions for MongoDB's CTO

The most popular NoSQL database, MongoDB, still draws skepticism from enterprise IT. CTO Eliot Horowitz answers those objections in an exclusive interview

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Then there's simply maturity. MongoDB has been on the market for less than five years. When Oracle was five years old, it was not what it is today. The database space is a pretty long-term space. It takes a long time to get your products to maturity, and I think we're moving quite fast -- much faster than even we thought possible because there is such a need. Enterprise customers are going to try it for one use case, and they're going to want to see it in production for a year and a half before they go more mission-critical. Now we're seeing big waves of mission-critical applications starting to go to MongoDB.

InfoWorld: What sort of mission-critical apps?

Horowitz: One area is user-facing data. In the case of Adobe, when people are using Photoshop on their laptops or desktops, everything they do is saved in Adobe. If that goes down, then it's quite bad for them. If you're looking at banks and risk systems and if a risk system for a bank goes down, they can't trade.

InfoWorld: Really? How are banks using MongoDB?

Horowitz: If you look at the banking industry, there's so much changing all the time. The regulatory requirements with how they operate business, the way they do business, things are changing very rapidly. And Mongo does adapt faster and move faster; they can't do that in other systems, and for them that's really important right now. It's a huge impact on their business. Mongo is able to get in there even though it's young and new and open source. That's where having a commercial company behind an open source product is so important. They're working with us very closely. We're in there helping them, we're in there working with them, so it's a pretty good relationship, as opposed to them just using some open source product off the street.

InfoWorld: Would you agree, though, that it doesn't make much sense to move legacy enterprise systems to MongoDB? What you're really talking about is building the new.

Horowitz: If a legacy system is working, we expect no one to move to Mongo. It doesn't make sense. Where we see the most usage is in new applications and where they're building new applications all the time. Or when their legacy applications are breaking and they have to re-architect and rebuild. But if a legacy system is working, they're not going to move to Mongo for cost savings.

The only times you see it moving are one, if they have to rebuild it, or two, people say: You know what? We are so far behind in our product road map because we can't move quickly enough that we're going to bite the bullet for the next six months and actually migrate. It's going to be painful, then we're going to be able to catch up faster. But it has to be a pretty big event for someone to actually migrate.

InfoWorld: Who in organizations has been driving adoption of MongoDB?

Horowitz: Developers are probably the No. 1 group. Architects bring it in a lot because it's all sort of architectural problems. In some cases operations teams bring it in to solve their headaches. And in fewer cases you have a VP or CIO type bring it in because they think it can really transform what they're building. But I think more often than not, it's grassroots. People use it, they like it, and they go up the chain to their VP and say: Look, I'm using this one product, and I think we can use it for a much broader set of projects where it will work really well.

InfoWorld: On the operations side, I've heard objections that scaling MongoDB isn't necessarily as easy as advertised. What have been some of those objections and how have you answered them?

Horowitz: I think the biggest objection that we are addressing right now is the underlying system for MongoDB is designed for the greatest possible horizontal scalability and the most obvious operations. Now the most obvious operations are not always the simplest. What we've done is made sure that Mongo is built out of a lot of small components that you put together in these little pieces. Each one is independent and you can have a lot of wherever it gets too hard on scalability.

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