10gen CEO: Why we're the NoSQL leader

An interview with Dwight Merriman examines the genesis of MongoDB, the first popular document database -- and where the dynamic NoSQL trend will go from here

It's impossible to separate the NoSQL trend from 10gen's MongoDB. Yes, there are all sorts of NoSQL databases, as InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver detailed in his classic "Which freaking database should I use?" And it's notoriously difficult to determine market share among open source offerings like MongoDB and its competitors, such as Couchbase or Cassandra. Nonetheless, few would dispute that MongoDB has become the darling of a new generation of developers, who discovered early in the product's history that it simplified the creation of Web applications and enabled much easier database scaling than traditional RDBMSes.

10gen CEO Dwight Merriman co-founded the company in 2007 -- shortly after he sold his first venture, DoubleClick, to Google for $3.1 billion. Merriman comes from a hardcore technology background: He was CTO of DoubleClick from 1995 to 2005, and he designed the original technology for DART (Dynamic Advertising, Reporting, and Targeting), the dominant ad-serving technology of the Web. He launched the MongoDB open source project "because we really felt like there was a need for kind of a new class of data technologies, and the time was right for change." At 10gen's founding, MongoDB became a commercial open source project, with a choice of subscription tiers that include support and a special subscriber edition.

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To get a better sense of the appeal and the trajectory of MongoDB, InfoWorld executive editor Doug Dineley and I interviewed Merriman last week. We began by asking Merriman where he got the inspiration to invent the document database.

Q: Can you draw a direct line between your experience at DoubleClick and realizing a need for a different kind of database?

A: Yes. In a way, MongoDB is the kind of the database product I wish I'd had then. Because we were dealing with thousands of servers and a dozen data centers all over the world, and it could never be down. It was very hard. And of course, computers were also a thousand times slower in the late '90s than they are now because of Moore's Law. It really felt like reinventing the wheel every time. We wanted to create something that fit well with the way we write software today and with the scale of data we work with today -- and fits well with the cloud layer, whether it be private or public cloud. We couldn't really find anything, so about five years ago, at the beginning of 10gen, we started creating MongoDB from scratch.

Q: If you could point your finger at the two bottlenecks of conventional database technology, they would be scaling out and the controls around RDBMS. Were those the two biggest points of pain?

A: There's scaling out -- then the other one is the data model. You know, the relational database is probably the most successful technology in the history of software. We're using inventions that are 30 or 40 years old. But if you look at the other tools we use to build software, the programming languages we used have changed in a much faster cycle. The software development methodologies have changed. We're not doing a waterfall software development anymore. We're doing agile development and lots of releases. They weren't designed for a world with object-oriented programming languages and some of these new languages we have for cloud computing. We think there is going to be a very big inflection point at the data layer, the biggest in the last 25 years in terms of databases.

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