Tectonic Changes Now Hitting Main StreetNovember 15, 2016
For five-and-a-half years I have had the privilege of leading DataStax as CEO, which represents the latest segment in a 24-year technical career that has largely centered on databases. What changes we have seen in that time! As a new software engineer straight out of college, my first projects involved very “controversial” decisions to write applications on Oracle databases instead of the tried-and-true mainframe systems that had run businesses for decades. I saw the industry navigate that transition firsthand.
Today, we are witnessing another such transition — one that dwarfs even the mainframe-to-relational database paradigm shift. My involvement began in 2011, when I was (mostly unsuccessfully) pitching VCs for an early investment in a transactional database that could scale to pretty dramatic global levels.
The resistance? “Are more than a handful of companies ever going to have that kind of problem scaling their transactional data?”
This kind of question is not uncommon during a technology shift. In fact, in my early days of writing so-called “client/server” applications against Oracle databases, the broad applicability of those technologies was also constantly called into question. “It’s just a toy,” or “Well, maybe for that small use case, but all the real work will be done on the mainframe,” were common refrains.
In the 90’s, companies that did not immediately jump on the client-server shift found themselves a little behind; but quite honestly, the consequences of a year or two delay were not horrible. Although the client-server apps were richer, and in many cases more cost effective, they did not make or break a company.
That has fundamentally changed. Companies who are slow to embrace the latest paradigm shift to “Cloud Applications” can face swift and devastating market consequences. It is worth understanding exactly what shift needs to be made, and why companies are not making it fast enough.
Cloud Applications come in a variety of categories and are not hard to conceptually understand. One category consists of Customer Experience applications. These types of Cloud Applications are ones that you can easily and quickly access from multiple devices, at any time, from anywhere, that know who you are. Another large category is the Internet-of-Things. These types of Cloud Applications continually move insane amounts of data from machines to machines, all at machine speeds, which is to say, far faster than humans can process.
I think we all can agree that these kinds of Cloud Applications can have a profoundly positive impact on a company. If that is true, why are companies not moving faster?
One key reason is that Cloud Applications place demands on the database that shatter the paradigm on which the entire database market was built over the last 30 years. The old market never envisioned a world where everyone, was everywhere, accessing their data all the time (and with zero patience for slow responses); not to mention the addition of smart machines.
We tried — oh, did we try — to make the old database technology work in this new world. We built them bigger (e.g. Exadata), we put moats around them to protect their fragility (e.g. expensive SANs), and we even tried to manually pull them apart in ways that were never imagined by their original designers (e.g. MySQL sharding, Oracle Global Data Services). We were nothing if not creative.
In the end, forcing old database technology onto new Cloud Applications leads to kludgy, expensive, complicated, and ill-equipped results.
Companies today certainly need to be creative, but that creativity needs to be aimed at building Cloud Applications for their customers — not stuck in complicated database designs. In fact, databases must turn the tables and become an enabler for these new paradigms. Only then can organizations quickly and consistently get these new class of applications built and deployed at scale.
Our entire focus at DataStax is, and has been, to deliver a data management layer built specifically for Cloud Applications. In the past six years, we have worked with the world’s most innovative technology companies and traditional enterprises from every vertical, as well as startups.
There is little we have not seen. As a result, we have learned the patterns of success and failure, and we have innovated our technology accordingly. However, our interactions and our audiences have been extremely technical. It is now time to expand our conversations.
In the coming months, we are committed to helping technical and business people understand the dizzying array of technology choices they are facing in this new era. Most importantly, we are going to help our customers make the right choices, for the right reasons, in order to bring real value to their customers. That means us helping with things like: understanding which applications can deliver the most value, in the shortest time, with the lowest risk; building and finding the right developer skills; meshing with cloud migration strategies; reducing cost and complexity; building the right partner ecosystem; and integrating with other applications.
Never in history has software infrastructure played such a strategic role in impacting a company’s top- and bottom-line. Critical choices made today will have a profound effect on a company’s ability to execute its strategic visions of tomorrow. At DataStax, we want to bring light, not heat, to these conversations, in order to help our customers in the best way possible where it makes the most sense.
I’m looking forward to the next leg of the journey, together!
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