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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The problem is that now instead of having this one modern cluster you have lots of little pieces to manage. From an operations standpoint, that can be frustrating.

This year we have our automation systems coming out, which will let people actually manage a Mongo cluster very, very simply and make scaling much easier. So, for example, if I want to build a cluster, I can now do it with a few clicks. If I want to operate a cluster, I can do it with four clicks.

Operating large distributed clusters is a challenge, but if you have 200 MongoDB servers and want to upgrade them -- and you want to do it all and completely roll in with zero down time -- doing that manually is going to be painful. You really need a tool that does it as fast as possible, but also as safely as possible. So this is what we've built. It's in beta right now and we're releasing it later this year. I think this will be the single thing that people really need to make sure they can operate MongoDB at scale very easily.

InfoWorld: What are some of the most common misuses of MongoDB?

Horowitz: It's not really misuse, but the biggest challenge of MongoDB is understanding the right way to model data with MongoDB because it is so flexible and you can just start throwing data in so quickly. Often people don't take the time up front to actually design the right schema, so you end up sort of shooting yourself in the foot eventually.

One good thing with relational databases is that the model and options available to you are pretty simple and there are hard rules so it's pretty easy not to paint yourself into a corner. With Mongo it's a little bit easier to paint yourself into a corner, and this is sort of where education and documentation and books and articles and all that stuff are going to be so important, where you really have to make sure you're using the right model.

There are other use cases where it doesn't make sense. I think a lot of people have data that looks relational and they think MongoDB is interesting and they put their relational-looking data into Mongo and try to use it like relational databases and in fact it's a terrible relational database. Those things tend to go awry pretty quickly. If you treat it like relational databases it's not going to work very well.

InfoWorld: What keeps you up at night?

Horowitz: The biggest challenge I have that scares me the most is the product is good today. People like it. The gap between where we are today and where we want to be five years from now on the technology side is very large. But frankly, the number of users we have at this stage in our lifecycle is very high.

If you compare Mongo to other popular databases at their same lifecycle stage, MongoDB is very, very popular with a very high number of use cases -- a very high number of enterprise use cases. So there's this balance: We need to move quickly because there is this big gap we need to cover, but we also need to be incredibly rigorous because there are all these mission-critical applications.

We can't break it. It has to work. At the same time, people have given me massive wish lists of features that they all want as soon as possible. The hardest part for me is balancing the speed and the reliability, making sure we are always being as rigorous and as reliable as we possibly can be while we make it as fast as possible.

This article, "11 questions for MongoDB's CTO," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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