Cloud proves that OldSQL is still cool

Relational lives to fight on

Open... and Shut As the IT world scrambles pell mell into the cloud, veteran vendors like Oracle are having to figure out how to make money in an IT market that is increasingly turning its back on traditional software licensing. While Oracle has faced down challenges to its core database business before from open source, the cloud presents an even thornier problem. If the world wants NoSQL and its ilk, will Oracle be forced to capitulate?

However, despite the doom and gloom spurred by Oracle's latest earnings report, and the real likelihood that sales will continue to suffer as IT budgets look set to plunge in North America and Europe, the world isn't ending for Oracle or other vendors that serve up traditional databases for traditional markets.

In part this is because the relational database may continue to have a healthy role to fill, even in the cloud.

First of all, there remain plenty of workloads for which a relational database remains the best fit. No matter how popular NoSQL becomes, they are a bet on the future, and not really a cannibalisation of the past.

EnterpriseDB CEO Ed Boyajian underlined this to me in an email. According to Boyajian:

Traditional SQL relational and new NoSQL databases will live alongside each other in cloud deployments because they serve very different workload and developer needs. The cloud needs SQL-relational databases just as much as the traditional data center. And to the vast majority of developers, SQL will be the universal database language of choice for years to come.

Catch that? Even stodgy old relational databases are relevant in the cloud.

EnterpriseDB, in fact, recently delivered some substance to back up this claim, announcing Postgres Plus Cloud Database, which is billed as a “a full-featured, enterprise-class PostgreSQL database-as-a-service." The old world delivered via the new world, which may well mean that the "old world" isn't so old, after all, but rather a different way to handle database workloads. It is particularly fitting that EnterpriseDB, which had been Oracle's bête noire since Oracle acquired MySQL, was the company to show Oracle an ideal way to make its database relevant in the cloud.

Not that Oracle has been standing still. After all, it has been talking about delivering various Oracle software products, including its venerable database, in the cloud since at least 2008 (warning: PDF). Though the company initially pooh-poohed the very idea of cloud computing, it has since gotten cloud religion, announcing the Oracle Public Cloud back in late 2011 and acquiring RightNow, a SaaS vendor, among other things. But it's also the case that Oracle, in particular, isn't standing still. Oracle is positioning itself for a cloudy future, and given its strong ties to enterprise buyers, should do well.

Not everyone agrees, however, that traditional databases have a part to play in the cloud. In response to the recent Amazon DynamoDB (NoSQL database) announcement, 10gen CEO Dwight Merriman was quoted saying: "The Amazon Dynamo DB announcement is further validation that NoSQL is a big deal, and we are excited to see large players like Oracle and Amazon recognizing the need for alternatives to the relational database. Their entry into the field makes it clear to all large enterprises that this is an important trend – as we have seen that traditional databases do not fit well with cloud computing."

But that doesn't quite declare the death of the RDBMS, so Bloor Research analyst Robin Bloor takes on that task, insisting: "The relational database as it stands is dead. Its architecture is old, and it needs to be renewed."

That's a pretty strong statement, and seems to overlook some inconvenient truths about database workloads. Namely, that the NoSQL "hammer" is ill-suited for pounding on a huge number of SQL "nails."

As Razi Sharir, CEO of Xeround, which provides a database-as-a-service for MySQL applications, told me:

The world is in love with NoSQL when it comes to big data analysis. Any commercial application that is in need of a transaction and/or relational notion won’t be able to use NoSQL, as sexy as it seems. And while some NoSQL makes attempts to support coverage for transactions and/or relational, it has to be either transactional or not, either relational or not – there's no middle ground.

Xeround is not the only vendor that believes there’s room for SQL databases in the cloud – Amazon (Amazon RDS), (, and even Google (Google Cloud SQL) all have their hats in the ring.

So maybe the NoSQL children aren't going to slaughter the OldSQL (RDBMS) geezers any time soon. The 451 Group's Matt Aslett doesn't think so, either, and has christened NewSQL as a nice compromise position between the old world and the new. As Aslett posits, NewSQL is "shorthand for the various new scalable/high performance SQL database vendors".

Put another way, it's shorthand for a long and productive life for SQL, even as NoSQL takes off. Legacy RDBMS systems may be showing their age, but relational databases are very far from dead. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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