NewSQL – What is it?

There has been a lot of discussion on NoSQL databases over the past couple of years. These databases do not use the Structured Query Language (SQL), the standard data manipulation language for relational databases such as Oracle, DB2, MySQL, Sybase, and SQL Server. The data model is closer to object-oriented data and hence fits well for documents or geospatial data. Being schema-less, they accommodate well for flexible data structures, unlike their relational brethren. Examples of NoSQL databases are MongoDB (most popular), CouchDB, and Cassandra. Programming is easier and rigid consistency is not guaranteed.  They also have scale-out models with replication and sharding (partitioning) for speed. These products support multiple languages.

A new category called NewSQL databases are aiming to provide the scale-out advantages of NoSQL databases, and often their commodity hardware friendliness as well. But NewSQL databases maintain the transactional data consistency guarantees of traditional relational databases, as well as their compatibility with SQL for queries and connectivity (using technologies like ODBC and JDBC).  One such product called NuoDB believes that transactional, analytical and “Web scale,” elastic workloads can be handled by the same database; it’s just a matter of making that the design goal. This is hard to believe until proven!

Another NewSQL product, VoltDB also claims to bring ACID-compliant transactions with analytics. VoltDB focuses on using in-memory technology to perform in situ analysis on financial, clickstream, gaming, and other high-velocity data as it streams in. In the company’s own words, VoltDB is meant to “narrow the ‘ingestion-to-decision’ gap.” There is growing need for instant analysis of transactional data (Real-time BI).

You squander the value of transactional data unless you analyze it as it is being recorded. SAP said much the same thing recently, as it announced the availability of its Business Suite on its HANA in-memory data platform, and fellow NewSQL player NuoDB uses in-memory and asynchronous technology to facilitate similar real-time analyses. Other NewSQL database products include ScaleDB and Clustrix, addressing the scalability needs of MySQL customers. Most of these products are also offering their services in the cloud.

It seems a grand unification process is on its way. Conventional relational databases and NoSQL databases seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum. NewSQL databases acknowledge the merits in both models and seek to eliminate unreasonable compromise by marrying the approaches. NewSQL products may thus win out, but traditional relational database players may also incorporate NoSQL and NewSQL features to stay competitive. Perhaps that’s why Microsoft announced in November last year that the next major release of its SQL Server relational database will include an in-memory transactional database engine, codenamed “Hekaton.”

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