Congratulations, Michael Stonebraker for winning the 2014 ACM Turing Award

This week, the 2014 ACM Turing award was given to Michael Stonebraker, professor of computer science and engineering at MIT. Mike spent 29 years at University of California, Berkeley, joining as assistant professor after his Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Michigan. His undergraduate degree was from Princeton University. Since 2000, he has been at MIT. He is a remarkable researcher, pioneering many frontiers in database management. Personally I have interacted with him several times during my days at IBM and Oracle. We have even spoken at the same panel in couple of public forums during the 1990s.

The award citation reads, “Michael Stonebraker is being recognized for fundamental contributions to the concepts and practices underlying modern database systems.  Stonebreaker is the inventor of many concepts that were crucial to making databases a reality and that are used in almost all modern database systems. His work on INGRES introduced the notion of query modification, used for integrity constraints and views. His later work on Postgres introduced the object-relational model, effectively merging databases with abstract data types while keeping the database separate from the programming language.”

The ACM Turing award is considered as the “nobel prize in computer science” and is named after the British mathematician Alan Turing. The first award was given in the year 1966 and included a citation and $250,000 cash. Since last year, Google has sponsored and lifted the award to $1 Million dollars. Many stalwarts like Charles Bachman (1973, for inventing the concept of a shared database), Edgar Codd (1981, for pioneering the relational database), and Jim Gray (1998, for seminal work on database and transaction processing) have been honored with the Turing award. Mike Stonebraker joins this illustrious group.

The specialty of Mike is that his research has culminated in many product companies  as the following list (partial) shows:

  • Ingres – early relational database based on Dr. Codd’s (IBM) relational data model.
  • Postgres – object-relational database, base for products like Aster Data (part of Teradata), and Greenplum (part of EMC).
  • Illustra – Object database sold to Informix (now IBM) during the 1990s
  • Vertica – columnar data store, sold to HP in 2011
  • StreamBase – stream-oriented data store
  • Goby – data integration platform
  • VoltDB – in-memory database with high-speed transaction processing
  • SciDB – scientific data management
  • Tamr – to handle sensor data from varieties of sources

He has publicly derided the NoSQL movement, mainly due to its relaxed integrity (ACID) approach which he calls a fundamental flaw. He has also said in a recent interview, “IBM’s DB2, Oracle, and Microsoft‘s SQL Server are all obsolete, facing a couple major challenges. One is that at the time, they were designed for “business data processing.” But now there is also scientific data and social media, and web logs, and you name it! The number of people with database problems is now of a much broader scope. Second, “We were writing Ingres and System R for machines with a small main memory, so they were disk-based — they were what we call ‘row stores‘.” You stored data on disk record by record by record. All major database systems of the last 30 years all looked like that – Postgres, Ingres, DB2, Oracle DB, SQL Server — they’re all disk-row stores.” He says in-memory processing is quite economical and is the trend for future. He is a bit self-serving as his company VoltDB is based on that principle.

Mike thinks Facebook has the biggest database challenge with its “social graph” model which is growing in size at alarming speed. The underlying data store is MySQL which can not handle such load. Hence they have to come up with highly scalable innovative solutions, which will be mostly home-grown as no commercial product can handle that kind of load.

Mike Stonebraker is a legend in database research and the Turing award is well-deserved for such a pioneer. Congratulations!


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