Why modern applications demand polyglot database strategies


Commentary: Ready to move all your applications to NoSQL databases? It’s not that simple.

Big data analysis, unstructured database processing metaphor, large volume of  white puzzle jigsaws with alphabets pouring from bottle combine word DATA on red fabric background with copy space

Image: Nuthawut Somsuk, Getty Images/iStockphoto

For someone who cut his teeth on relational databases at Oracle right out of college, Mark Porter sure seems happy to leave them behind. In announcing his new position as CTO at MongoDB, the company behind the eponymous document-based, distributed database, Porter took some shots at the relational world he’s left behind. 

This isn’t to suggest relational data is dead, or even limping. Instead, Porter’s ability to straddle the worlds of NoSQL (MongoDB) and SQL (Oracle) simply suggests that data is a lot more complicated than can fit on a bumper sticker, and we’re nowhere near being able to call it a “solved” problem.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A new world of data

When Porter started at Oracle (1988), MongoDB didn’t exist. Heck, at that time, MongoDB co-founder Eliot Horowitz was still in elementary school. So Porter (and the rest of the world) had no idea what he/they might be missing in those rows and columns of relational data. It wasn’t until 2009 that MongoDB shipped and upended the database world. 

Eleven years later, Porter had this to say about this brave new world of data:

No matter how amazing databases have been…building apps on them has never been simple. Normalized data, mathematically pure or not, is agonizing for humans to program against; it’s just not how we think….And while SQL might look pretty in an editor, from a programming point of view, it’s close to the hardest way to query information you could think of. Relational databases tout their fixed and predictable data model as a feature, but in reality, inflexible data models are a shackle around any real world developer’s productivity. Just ask any CIO how often they “roll new schema” to their application fleet, and they typically put their head in their hands and mumble ‘Once a quarter..if we’re lucky.'”

And yet…Porter’s original world of relational data is very much with us. Those ERP systems that SAP made $27 billion selling last year? Mostly relational data. Indeed, take all those systems of record that organizations use to help manage employees, or track widgets in their supply chains, etc.? Almost entirely relational data. In fact, developers still use the venerable RDBMS for everything from online ticket sales to advertising systems

As such, as much as Porter is correct that developers love the flexibility of newer approaches to data management like MongoDB, many also will continue to rely on the RDBMS. 

Or something new.

Database proliferation

If anyone thought we’d figured out databases, all they need to do is take a look at DB-Engines, which currently tracks over 350 different databases, of all sorts of shapes and sizes. From relational to document to graph to key-value to multi-model to…you name it. Over the past decade, in particular, we’ve seen database options explode. 

While no developer could hope to become proficient in 350 databases, or even 35, the fact that we have this level of choice speaks to the desire of many people to build better, easier ways to manage ever-changing data. It also speaks to an inefficient drive among some to reinvent the database wheel, rather than partner on a few projects. As analyst Curt Monash has noted, “Developing a good [database] requires 5-7 years and tens of millions of dollars. That’s if things go extremely well.” There are no exceptions to this rule.

Take MongoDB, for example. It’s about as close to an “overnight success” as we have in databases, and it took a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to reach its current level of popularity (fifth on the DB-Engines ranking). Though people keep creating new databases, it might be more cost-effective to contribute to existing open source database projects to help them gain the capabilities perceived to be missing. 

And yet…forks happen. Often existing projects won’t accommodate new directions. Sometimes their architecture won’t, either. For Redis founder Salvatore Sanfilippo, he told me the Redis example serves as a reminder that it’s “possible to explore new things” in areas like databases even if everything looks “solved.”

This means we’re probably going to get more than 356 databases, even if we don’t actually need “more” databases that we regularly use. Whether we rally around a few existing projects or innovate new ones, the future of data is “more.”

Disclosure: I work at AWS, but this article reflects my views, not those of my employer.

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Your Business-Critical Applications in the Cloud? This is how you do it.


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Modern applications have helped organizations succeed during the pandemic


Mindsets and perceptions have shifted, and people are embracing change and alignment, VMware research reveals.

Image: VMware

Organizations have benefitted from the use of modern applications to adapt and maintain agility and reliability during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new global survey by VMware.

Specifically, modern applications “that are truly cloud native” are allowing organizations to enable remote workforces (54%), push quick updates in response to a changing landscape (42%), and maintain reliable uptime (41%), said Sumit Dhawan, senior vice president and chief customer experience officer at VMware, during a call to discuss the findings.

The survey, which was conducted in March and April 2020, also reveals improved perceptions of alignment among app developers, IT, and business decision-makers as they collaborate to help their organizations operate amid the pandemic.

Going cloud native in a time of declining IT budgets


The findings are somewhat counterintuitive, Dhawan said, because creating modern apps requires alignment and collaboration among all three groups. “You’d think they would have suffered because people are remote,” he noted. “But we learned they are much better during the pandemic versus pre-pandemic.”

The crisis shifted people’s mindsets and perceptions of their organizations, and they are embracing change and organizational alignment, which are crucial to success, Dhawan said. This has been the case inside VMware as well, he added. 

“We used to have teams plan meetings and put things on a whiteboard, which is good, but oftentimes required a lot of planning and some people couldn’t attend,” Dhawan said. “Now, with everyone in a virtual world there’s more frequent virtual collaboration and it’s easier to find time in people’s calendars and it forces them to collaborate more.”

This has “concentrated the energy” and been driving “true innovation,” which is also required for these modern apps, along with speed and agility, he said.

Software development that used to take a year is now being done in weeks or months, thanks to this mindset change, Dhawan said.

The research also revealed that software-minded leaders, modern tools, and agile processes are central to improving digital experiences for customers and employees, he said. “What we learned is you need leadership and processes and technology.”

Organizations would not have been able to cope and be as agile with data 5, 10, or 20 years ago, “and that’s a nice, positive light to shine on the data in that sense,” added Charlie Wood, senior research manager at Vanson Bourne, which conducted the survey for VMware.

When change is forced upon organizations they have really “stepped up to the challenge,” Wood said. “If you asked them six months ago ‘How long would it take you to get there,’ there’s no way they would have been this confident. The old saying of taking lemons and making lemonade [applies]. There’s much good to take from this on what businesses can achieve.”

The survey found that 88% of organizations with software-minded leaders are more successful and that 94% of respondents said it is imperative that people with varied tech skills are heavily involved in digital transformation efforts at any organization.

Further, 81% said the deployment of emerging technologies such as AI or cloud-native apps when done correctly is an important part of digital transformation success, Dhawan said.

“The main thing I’d say is it’s absolutely paramount to have the right platform in place,” said Wood. “Not just people and processes…it’s about being more agile with methodologies and utilizing ‘test and learn.’ All of this coming together is what businesses need to be aiming for and the research tells us they need to be successful.”

Key findings

The main benefits of modern, cloud-native apps during the pandemic include:

o   Enabling remote workforces (54%)

o   Pushing quick updates in response to changing landscape (42%) and,

o   Maintaining reliable uptime (41%).


According to app developers (app devs) and IT decision-makers (ITDMs), modern apps also provide:

o   Improved end-user experience (46%)

o   Increased app/software performance (43%) and,

o   More efficient use of app/software developer time (43%).


Almost all respondents (97%) have seen some success, big or small, from their digital transformation efforts. The top three digital transformation priorities for organizations are:

o   Increasing business efficiency (48%)

o   Improving the customer experience (42%) and,

o   Upgrading existing technology platforms (39%).

Alignment between different departments is a crucial driver of success in the best of times. During this pandemic, its importance increases exponentially. US and UK respondents were more likely to agree that their company was “on the cutting edge and quick to embrace change” during the pandemic (25%) than they were before it (15%).

The study also found a marked improvement in how teams characterized their alignment during the pandemic:

o   App dev and IT teams (increased from 64% with good or excellent alignment pre-pandemic to 70% during)

o   App dev and business teams (increased from 57% to 67%) and,

o   IT and business teams (increased from 55% to 67%).

Additionally, the digital transformation priorities of “reducing costs” and “improving the employee experience” are weighed much more equally during the pandemic (29% and 27%, respectively) than before (37% and 20%, respectively), according to the study.

The VMware “Successful Digital Transformation: Apps At The Ready” report is based on a survey of 5,000 business decision-makers, IT decision-makers, and app developers at mid- to large-sized organizations in 17 countries.

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