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September 29, 2015

Non-relational database competitor Couchbase CEO says customers ‘hate’ Oracle

CEO Briefing: NoSQL rival Bob Wiederhold says an inflection point for his database market has arrived because of technical issues and strong emotions among Oracle customer base. Plus analyst reaction and views.

By James Nunns

Technical and customer issues might be key migration factors according to Bob Wiederhold, CEO of NoSQL database vendor Couchbase as he predicts a shift away from Oracle and its relational database.

These issues he said will form part of what he calls phase three of the non-relational database market. This is broad deployment of NoSQL that will form another inflection point for the technology ‘leading to rapid growth.’

In a report in December 2014 Matt Aslett of 451 Group estimated that NoSQL accounts for 2% of the global database market.

Wiederhold said: "In phase two, issues such as cost with Oracle don’t really play a role in customers switching to NoSQL. They’re switching to NoSQL because they have big technical problems with Oracle and with relational technology that they have to fix.

"They see NoSQL as a way to fix those problems and so that’s why they are making the switch."

In addition to this, Wiederhold says customers will be driven by a dislike of Oracle.

"It’s at that point I think they will be helped by the fact they don’t like Oracle at all. Before, there were technical reasons driving them to NoSQL, but now they are already making a strategic commitment."

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"They are going to start to say, yeah Oracle is working for this application but NoSQL is 75% less expensive and ‘I hate Oracle.’"

"So the combination of Couchbase solving technical problems, that it’s just much cheaper or that they can’t stand Oracle as a vendor and the lock-in, I think you will see a large number of customers make a big commitment."

CBR put these points to Oracle who ‘decided not to comment.’

The technical problems that Wiederhold highlight are more technical limitations, says Matt Aslett, research director at The 451 Group speaking to CBR.

"It’s not necessarily about tech problems…more about technical limitations."

The growth of unstructured data is highlighting the limitations of relational databases, they aren’t designed to deal with it, Aslett said.

However, Aslett doesn’t see relational databases being turned off anytime soon. He said: "You’ll more likely see NoSQL databases deployed alongside Oracle. It’s not a matter of turning one thing on, one off."

He also doesn’t see the dominance of relational databases to change any time soon, saying: "I don’t foresee a big change in the near future. It’s the beginning of potentially significant change – in the very long term."

One of the reasons for change over the long term is applications. "Applications currently used are designed for the relational database," said Aslett.

The suggestion that some customers hate Oracle, and that this could be a factor in migration is something that should concern vendors he said when asked about Wiederhold’s comments.

"Satisfaction has a role to play, it is something that should be concerning for incumbent vendors," said Aslett. "A lack of customer satisfaction is driving customers to look at other options."

However, database migrations are very hard and it takes a lot to push people over the edge, he said.

Focusing on customer satisfaction with database providers, Aslett said: "Based on conversations we have with numerous end users…they [Oracle] are incumbent vendors and people like to grumble about vendors, but there is brand loyalty and trust."

Oracle ratings as a vendor are actually quite positive, according to Gartner, which rated Big Red’s customer experience level as, ‘promising’, its database management systems as, ‘strong positive’ but its pricing as, ‘strong negative.’

With relational databases likely to be around for the foreseeable future, there is likely to be a couple of strategies undertaken to maintain its dominance.

One will be to acquire competition, as IBM did with Cloudant and Compose. The other way is to expand the relational model, for example adding JSON capabilities, which a number of large vendors have already done or are doing. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a data interchange language.

Wiederhold, said: "I find it somewhat humorous when they talk about how they’ve added JSON to a relational database, all they’ve done is say you’re now allowed to store JSON documents, but you can’t do what JSON documents are designed to do."

Wiederhold in the end thinks that customers will want to choose NoSQL, believing that it is better aligned to the needs of the digital economy business.

"That’s where we’re focused and we think the scalability, performance and data modelling of a NoSQL database just fundamentally is the right set of trade offs for those digital economy businesses."

The fact that unstructured data doesn’t fit well into the rows and columns of the relational database, means that they can better appeal to developers.

"Developers want to store new information all the time, in a relational database you need to go to a database admin to ask them to change the schema to add another column into another table. That can take literally months in many companies to change the schema.

"That simply doesn’t allow you to move fast enough if you’re a developer to develop all the features you want to deliver to your digital economy business customers."

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