DataStax CEO: Every use case doesn’t need a new database

The CEO of the enterprise NoSQL database company believes the database market is too fragmented, and he has a plan to fix it.

DataStax CEO: Every use case doesn’t need a new database

After two and a half years in the role, the CEO of DataStax is laser-focused on simplifying the task of using and managing NoSQL databases for developers, as he plots a path to $1 billion in annual revenue and an eventual IPO.

Founded in Texas in 2010, DataStax made its name helping enterprise customers get to grips with the highly scalable NoSQL Apache Cassandra open source database. Now, under CEO Chet Kapoor, the company is looking to build on its success with Cassandra by providing a more general-purpose open source data stack for both data at rest and the harder-to-manage data in motion.

Bringing order to a fragmented database market

“I am blown away by how fragmented the database market is. Every use case has a new database and I don’t think that should be the case,” Kapoor, who worked at Google (via its acquisition of Apigee) and IBM before joining DataStax as CEO in 2019, told InfoWorld during a recent visit to London.

For Kapoor, the answer to this growing complexity problem is an opinionated data stack, based on open source technologies, where developers can more easily manage both data at rest and data in motion.

“Developers really do not want to worry about databases,” he said. “How do we make this completely seamless for them, where a Jamstack or enterprise developer is just using an API so the database stuff just works?”

Last month DataStax added CDC streaming capabilities to its managed AstraDB service, powered by Apache Pulsar—which has emerged as a rival streaming data engine to Apache Kafka—giving developers the ability to manage both operational and streaming data all in one place.

Then, if it doesn’t “just work,” Kapoor recognizes the need for the product to be transparent and open enough to allow the small minority of developers who want to get under the covers to do so. “The simplicity piece works for 90% of developers, but you want to make sure that your hotshot PhD from Carnegie Mellon should be able to go into your system and do whatever you want,” he said.

Is a database convergence coming?

Finding that balance between allowing developers to adopt the best available technologies, while also giving leadership some level of manageability and cost control, isn’t a unique problem to DataStax, but it is one Kapoor is looking to take on. “Our mission statement is to serve the real-time application, with an open data stack, that just works,” he said.

This drive towards developer experience and greater simplicity has already seen the rise of serverless application platforms like Vercel and Netlify, but these front-end focused platforms still need a database somewhere underneath.

“Given the fact that most application platforms will require a database and most database platforms will be backing applications, the clear implication is that application platforms should be eyeing database vendors with an eye towards acquisition, and that database vendors should be considering application platforms for the same reason,” RedMonk analyst Steve O’Grady recently wrote in a blog post.

Kapoor said that he has had conversations with both Vercel and Netlify in the past. And although he did not go into detail about what was discussed, he did say that he looks forward to seeing what happens, because he believes these worlds will collide. It’s important for DataStax to remain close to “the frameworks that developers love, and support them as natively as we possibly can,” he said.

While fragmentation will continue to make this far from a simple partnership between application platforms and database-as-a-service providers, O’Grady views the resurgence of general-purpose database platforms and abstraction layers like GraphQL as routes out of the mire for developers.

Open source strategy is easy, the execution is hard

DataStax has not been immune to the challenges of building an enterprise software business on open source foundations.

Before Kapoor joined, the relationship between DataStax and the wider Apache Cassandra community—which includes high-powered members like Uber, Netflix, Facebook, and Apple—had become so strained that DataStax essentially vacated its leadership of the project in 2016 and allowed its annual community event to lapse. When I asked about this, Kapoor literally put his palm to his face.

“The number one thing that I did when I joined, the first thing, was say we are going to embrace the community,” Kapoor said. “We put 20 of our top engineers back into the community and earned their trust, which took a while, because when you piss off a community, that sticks around for a long time. It took us about sixteen months until we reached the point where the community shipped Cassandra 4.0. Now, I think we’re in a good spot with the community.”

Kapoor has been keenly watching how vendors like Elastic and MongoDB have contended with similar issues, and admits that “the strategy is simple, the implementation is really hard.”

“The needle that you have to thread is the company needs to innovate and deliver features, and you have to stay true to your community as well,” he said. “Notice I didn’t say open source, I said your community. In a community, you always lead with code, everything else is talk.”

‘The IPO will happen’

DataStax is currently focused on developer growth, as Kapoor looks to take the company to $1 billion annual revenues and possibly even an IPO soon.

“We build products that developers love, that change the trajectory of the enterprises they work for. It is that combination that creates what we do well,” Kapoor said. “We don’t monetize the developer. What we do is make sure the developer loves our products.”

If DataStax can execute on that, “the IPO will happen,” Kapoor said. “It’s a great event, you raise a lot of money, it’s a great marketing event for the company. But it is an event, and you get past it. There are many people who haven’t been through it and it is a beautiful event for them. As we look at our numbers, and we’re spending time at investor conferences, we know we’re ready now. But we’ll be patient.”

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