Cockroach Labs scuttles its way to $160m funding, $2bn valuation thanks to the database that doesn't die

Upstart hopes to do for transactional databases what Snowflake did for data warehousing


Even database companies you've never heard of might be worth a billion or two. Take Cockroach Labs, the firm behind the distributed RDMS CockroachDB, for example, which has hit gold in a $160m funding round.

With backers including Greenoaks and Lone Pine, and existing investors Benchmark, BOND, FirstMark, GV, Index Ventures, and Tiger Global, the round takes total investment to date to $355m as the startup tries to do for transactional databases what Snowflake has done for data warehouse systems.

In 2020, Snowflake dazzled the market with its "cloud-native" approach and saw its nominal value explode from around $12bn to $120bn.

Speaking to The Register, Cockroach Labs CEO and co-founder Spencer Kimball said the database was built from the ground up on a node-based architecture, which enables automatic scaling for both reads and writes with no more manual sharding. The approach supposedly allows it to survive the failure of a node, a rack, a data centre, or even an entire region with no service disruption, Kimball told us.

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The database also lets users tie a row of data to a location based on the data itself, helping customers meet compliance targets in a particular country, while making the data available from any location.

CockroachDB differs from other cloud-native transactional databases in that it can "can scale for both reads AND writes and allows you to span multiple regions," according to Kimball.

Rich pickings

He also said that most cloud-native OLTP (Online Transactional Processing) systems were wedded to a particular cloud provider, while CockroachDB was independent of the hyperscalers.

The point of the funding round was to build up the coffers to go after the 80 per cent of the OLTP market yet to move to the cloud, in the same way Snowflake has done with data warehousing. "With only around 20 per cent of transactional workloads currently in the cloud, just imagine how much data is still flowing through IBM and Oracle, two vendors ripe for disruption," Kimball said.

CockroachDB began life as an open-source database (Apache License version 2), but in 2019 the company decided to shift to a hybrid Business Source License (BSL) model to stop other commercial organisations offering its database as a service. After three years, the licence converts to standard Apache 2.0.

We have made countless contributions to open-source projects and actively grow our own community

"Cockroach Labs remains an active participant and contributor to open source and open-source communities," Kimball said. "We have made countless contributions to open-source projects and actively grow our own community. In every major product release, we analyse our code base to seek out capabilities that can be placed in our free and open version, CockroachDB Core."

But there are downsides to Cockroach's approach to database architecture. Peter Zaitsev, CEO at Percona, a database-independent open-source service partner, pointed out that there is a trade-off between CockroachDB and the approach taken by MariaDB, for example, which was built out of MySQL more than 25 years ago and retrofitted for the cloud.

"MariaDB SkySQL is great for taking existing MariaDB-compatible applications to the cloud while CockroachDB is great for new application development and migrations where significant application changes may be required," Zaitsev told The Register last year.

Kimball said most customers were currently employing the database for new use cases. "At this point, it's mostly greenfield projects. When people think about CockroachDB they often have migration in mind. However, it often makes more sense to start with a new application." ®


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