The database market is in play

For 30 years the database market has essentially meant one thing: Oracle. With over 50 percent of the database market, more than double IBM’s share, Oracle is used to calling the shots. For decades, Oracle has consistently churned out impressive database software, albeit at a hefty price. Customers may not have liked dealing with Oracle’s dominance, but they didn’t have much choice.

Until now. Suddenly, the market is spoiled for choice, in a way that it hasn’t been for nearly three decades.

Some of that choice came from upstart relational database competitors like MySQL (now owned by Oracle) and PostgreSQL. Such databases have promised traditional database technology at much lower price points and, depending on the workload, superior performance.

But the real shift has been the emergence of a new class of database, one designed for modern applications: NoSQL. As Redmonk analyst James Governor notes,

The database market is back in play after a 30-year old freeze in which Oracle dominated the high end, and Microsoft the midmarket. Then along came open source, the cloud, NoSQL, in memory and everything changed….The idea that everything is relational? Those days are gone.

Interestingly, one of the biggest trends in technology today - that of Big Data - is really a database phenomenon, though we don’t always think of it as such. It is being enabled not by the old-school, relational database approach, but rather through the forces Governor calls out: open source, NoSQL, and cloud.

As 10gen CEO Dwight Merriman illustrates:

Big Data is a huge trend and is very real. Behind the label, however, what Big Data really means is new database and data processing technologies, leading to a giant inflection point for database technology, the biggest in 25 years. Part of Big Data is, of course, the sheer volume of data (i.e., the “big” part). But part of the trend toward Big Data is that innovative database technology today is demonstrably “better.” For example, MongoDB makes it possible to store semi-structured, polymorphic, evolving structured data without extreme pain, while simultaneously making app developers in an organization agile and nimble.

Think about that. If any company should have been well-positioned to capitalize on the trend toward Big Data, it’s Oracle, given that the world has stored its data with Oracle for decades. And yet Oracle isn’t at the forefront of Big Data: a range of open-source projects like Hadoop and MongoDB are, which Oracle doesn’t control and in which Oracle currently only plays a bit part through its partnership with Cloudera.

For the first time in decades, therefore, the biggest trends in database technology are not being driven by the biggest vendor of database technology. There is a massive sea change underway, and it’s not Oracle that is leading it.

The database market is wide open in a way that many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. For this reason, the database market is the most interesting and exciting than it has been since the world settled on SQL in the 1980s. The database market, to quote Governor, is very much in play. Finally.

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