The Future of the NoSQL, SQL, and RDBMS Markets
Matt Asay wrote an interesting article for The Register titled SQL Survives Murder Attempt by Mutant Stepchild where he opines that “NoSQL remains a tiny blip in the overall datastore universe“. And he’s correct. When it comes to the universe of data management deployments, NoSQL usage is a tiny fraction of the overall data management market.
The term NoSQL implies that these emerging data management technologies are fighting the SQL establishment. I would argue that, instead, they are fighting the traditional Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) establishment. The NoSQL movement has evolved out of a loose association of technologies that solve challenges that traditional relational solutions are not designed to solve well. RDBMS software is good at addressing the majority of our data management challenges. However, there are instances where the relational approach simply does not work well. While these situations are a relatively small part of the data management universe, they are nonetheless important. After all, these emerging technologies are meeting a very real market need, and the likelihood is that this market need will grow as the business world shifts towards use cases where these NoSQL solutions shine. So, essentially we have a situation where a bunch of data management technologies are emerging to solve a subset of data management challenges that are not well served by currently available technologies. I expect that some of these NoSQL use cases will evolve into reasonable, if relatively small, segments of the overall data management market.
To further illustrate that the term NoSQL is probably a misnomer, some of these NoSQL technologies have plans to adopt SQL interfaces. How will the NoSQL movement react when some of its products start adopting SQL interfaces? As Alanis Morissette would say, isn’t it ironic!
But anyway, back to the topic at hand. While certain segments of the high tech media are portraying this as a big battle between the incumbent and a challenger, I would instead portray it as the emergence of new technologies to augment the incumbent. The NoSQL solutions are essentially a set of technologies that address use cases that are not well served by existing relational technology. The relational database software market is huge today, and I don’t see this changing in any significant way in the foreseeable future. Despite what some wide-eyed and naive smaller vendors may claim, these emerging technologies are simply not in a position to wholesale unseat the incumbent relational database technology. Instead, they will likely augment relational technology in many IT environments. In some IT environments, where their business is built around NoSQL-friendly use cases, it may actually be the opposite with relational technologies augmenting the more dominant NoSQL technologies. However, as Matt points out in his article, the fact that SQL-based systems have such a low barrier-to-entry will ensure their long-term dominance. Another significant factor in determining how thing will evolve is the huge investment and significant maturity of the ease-of-use, ease-of-maintenance, stability, reliability, and security features that make RDBMS systems enterprise-ready today. And don’t forget that, as emerging technologies play catch-up with this huge investment, the relational vendors will continue to innovate.
In my opinion, the likely outcome here is that there will be a set of separate battles among vendors for each of the individual market segments corresponding to the NoSQL use cases. And the larger vendors will participate in the more lucrative of these market segments, either with organically-developed or acquired products. And, for the most part, the servicing of these use cases will be relatively independent of the larger relational database market. What’s you opinion?