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No Hail Mary, NoSQL: DataStax CEO Plots Victory over Database Giants

The NoSQL movement is often depicted as a game-changer as organisations move away from the SQL/relational era and adopt a new type of database for a lightweight approach that offers high-velocity, low-latency and failover on commodity hardware. Billy Bosworth, CEO of NoSQL poster child DataStax, agrees, but this former college American football player says these are relatively days in the game. Or, to use a football analogy, we’re late in the second quarter and things are beginning to get very interesting.

For Bosworth, a 20-year veteran of the database scene who previously worked at Quest and Embarcadero Technologies, we’re at an inflexion point that is reminiscent of the first days of his career.

“I was a computer science guy out of college and came into the field when people were moving off mainframes and where Oracle was the bright young thing. When I entered the workforce I had a decision to make. I had everything in my toolbox: COBOL, Fortran [and other skills] and I could easily have made my career as a mainframe programmer, but as a 22-year-old it had nothing to do with merits of technology but more the [appeal of] new stuff. I took some ego grief from people saying these were toys but I was right.”

Just as joining the Oracle world felt right back then; Bosworth says the new generation of database programmers will opt for NoSQL as faster, cheaper technology that best fits many modern needs.

“Customers of all stripes are looking to replace or augment [Oracle and other RDBMS systems] because they’ve hit the wall,” he says, but, unlike some enterprise software CEOs you meet, Bosworth is not a gung-ho toastmaster for the new generation, shouting from the rooftops that the new stuff is great and the old stuff is rubbish. Instead, he believes that there will be a multiplicity of data stores where the smart money will be on backing horses for courses.

However, he is bullish on where DataStax sits “in the real-time side of the house, a space dominated by Oracle for a very long time”.

This fantastically lucrative and important aspect of IT infrastructure is what’s driving the buzz about DataStax. In rough and ready terms, Data Stax is to Cassandra what Red Hat has been to Linux: the company that takes an open source program and adapts it for the needs of blue-chip enterprises. And just as nobody ripped out and replaced Windows for Linux, he sees customers edging into DataStax, often running it in parallel with existing RDBMS systems and then extending roll-outs as comfort grows and usage scenarios become more apparent.

Returning to his football analogy, using DataStax for edge and niche apps was the first quarter and today, companies like Sony, Netflix and Intuit rely on DataStax for mission-critical apps.

“You don’t have to do this in one fell swoop,” he says, adding that a common story is for customers to duplicate systems and make DataStax the secondary citizen before branching in year two and flipping to make DataStax primary in year three.

The excitement is palpable as DataStax expands, having just bagged $45m in a fourth round of funding and released new versions of its software and the CQL developer environment designed to “take away a very large intimidation factor and offer a very comfortable and familiar way of doing things” for SQL coders.

Of course, rivals are not stupid but Bosworth says Oracle and the like have a “fundamental problem of ‘do I eat my own children?’” That is, how does the company keep the hugely lucrative cash cow of traditional client/server relational databases and yet adapt to the new world… and he notes with interest Oracle’s decision to no longer split out database revenues in its financial earnings reports.

Bosworth says he is not pursuing side opportunities, for example to branch out to Big Data-style analytics, but wants to remain focused on the main chance and partner elsewhere. Having seen his company grow headcount by a factor of six times in two years, he expects to double staffing again within 12 months as international operations are built out. His strategy is not to blind with science or baffle with BS but to focus on usage cases and case studies.

“When a paradigm shift happens, there’s no substitute for hearing from your peers. If you present a clear use case of something that’s impossible to do on an older technology, that takes out some of the religious fervour.”

Inevitably, there will be interest in an IPO and he agrees there could be a window of opportunity in the 18-24-month window, but Bosworth wants to build his company’s reputation as a “straight-shooter”: an organisation that doesn’t sell silver bullets or dreams but is focused on the here and now of customer needs.

Back to football: Bosworth says that it’s approaching halftime and it’s time to make the big calls “to ensure you finish strong”. If those calls are good, the database market will look very different before the game is played out.

 

Martin Veitch is editorial director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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