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Couchbase: “We’re not afraid of MongoDB”

Lucy Carey
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NoSQL CEO Bob Wiederhold outlines his plans for world domination – one enterprise at a time.

When we chatted with open source NoSQL database providers Couchbase last summer, they were celebrating having secured $25m in funding, and a 400% growth trajectory over the past year. Now, having launched a unique ‘JSON everywhere’ mobile proposition, they’re hoping to leapfrog over their competitors into an exploding market, and, just maybe, dethrone that 200 pound MongoDB gorilla along the way.

JAX: How have NoSQL market dynamics changed since Couchbase first launched?

Wiederhold: In the first few years of the NoSQL market, it was really characterised by grassroots developer adoption. Developers were downloading the software, playing around with it, and generally using it on relatively small applications and somewhat rarely using it for business critical applications.

That really started to change in a big way in late 2012 and throughout 2013. What we started to see in a big way was big internet companies and enterprises starting to believe that NoSQL was really strategic to their infrastructure and they started doing deep technical evaluations of the various competitors and then they began to deploy NoSQL in a big way under business critical applications.

We started to see a very significant increase in this period, when the dynamics of the market really started to change. It that phase, it was a much heavier focus on ease of development, and Mongo was quite strong as a result during that first phase, and gained some significant popularity.

What we’re seeing in this second phase, with the more business critical and mission critical applications, is that scalability and performance are dramatically more important because these apps are already operating at significant scale and they need higher performance.

What’s the reception to your JSON anywhere strategy been like?

It’s been fantastic. Obviously, mobile is a hot topic…it’s the new development platform, and so people are very excited and certainly knowledgeable about that being a huge transition and change.

The second part of the story you know, that’s a pretty easy bet to make, is that mobile devices are going to become more and more powerful. They’re going to have more processing power, and have more storage available. Our message is that we think more of the application is going to run on the mobile device and that there’s going to be a need for an ultralight mobile database that sits on the mobile phone.

There are a lot of benefits to having a local database, and obviously people are moving to NoSQL and JSON very rapidly, so having it be JSON based is very interesting to people.

There’s a tremendous amount of excitement around that and whether it’s developers or people who are just looking at the trends in mobile applications and mobile development, I think there’s a strong belief that it is going to be very important to have a mobile database that sits on the mobile device.

That’s one of the things we’ve provided – that’s what we call a Couchbase Lite. It’s a JSON based ultra-lightweight, secure mobile database. It allows you to be able to interact with data, even when you don’t have an internet connection. It allows you to provide much higher responsiveness to the user in terms of the performance of your app, because your data is sitting there locally. There are a lot of benefits to having a local database, and obviously people are moving to NoSQL and JSON very rapidly, so having it be JSON based is very interesting to people.

What big problems are you looking to solve next in the industry?

The second aspect of this strategy is syncing that database with the database in the cloud. We have something called the Couchbase Sync Gateway, and that’s basically a framework that allows you to very easily sync your mobile database with the database in the cloud.

That’s notoriously a very difficult problem. Getting syncing right is very difficult, it’s very time consuming, and developers really struggle with getting it to work. This is going to make that syncing dramatically easier, and so people are very, very excited about that as well.

That syncing allows you to sync between your personal devices, so obviously people are using their smartphones and their tablets and their laptops. It allows you to sync on a personal basis, and also between groups of people. It allows you to collaborate, and sync along whatever groups of people you’d like to sync.

Getting syncing right is very difficult, it’s very time consuming, and developers really struggle with getting it to work.

It’s also important for being able to backup your data. With mobile phones, people drop them and they break, or they drop them in water, or they lose them, or whatever, and so being able to sync back to the cloud is becoming increasingly important when you’re talking about mobile devices.

We’re the only NoSQL vendor that has this technology, so we’re well ahead of everyone else. We just released our Beta 2 version yesterday, and we expect to go to GA within the next few months. The interest in this – we’re an open source company so people are downloading it, and using it, and developing apps on it – and we’ve just gotten a fantastic response.

Already 75% of our user base are already using Couchbase to develop mobile applications, but they’re developing applications without storing data locally on their mobile device. This is an additive capability – if you’d like to store data locally on your mobile device, you now have the ability to do that as well.

We now have innovative groups in large companies, as well as start up companies, and everything in between that are taking a look at this technology, and figuring out ways to build better and better applications that are more responsive, that sync more easily, and that allow better collaboration and etc. This is not just limited to just individuals or startup companies. We’ve got a broad spectrum of people who are downloading and using it.

Why do you think Couchbase could be a real threat to MongoDB one day?

Couchbase’s major strength against Mongo is scalability and performance, and so our business has just absolutely taken off….We’re certainly among the leaders – by far the fastest growing – NoSQL database company, and we’re expecting to continue that very steep growth trajectory in 2014 on the basis of winning these deep strategic evaluations against Mongo and against DataStax.

We foresee ourselves doing big deals on the back of these wins, because these are all applications that already operate at significant scale and so there’s a large number of nodes of our software that customers need and they need longer term agreements with us…and that’s what’s driving our growth.

Do you see the enterprise as Couchbase’s niche, or would you like to edge out of this?

We’re doing very well in terms of grassroots developers using our technology as well. We’re certainly not anywhere near as popular as Mongo in that area but we consider enterprise to be very mainstream.

This isn’t just a small number of applications. Increasingly enterprises and the internet companies, their internet based applications, their mobile applications, are critical to their business, and we consider that to be mainstream. I think that if you take a look at how the NoSQL industry is going to grow, a very significant percentage of the business opportunity is with these enterprises…with these business and mission critical applications.

I think we’ve all kind of waited for this transition to take place, for enterprises and big internet companies to feel like the technology is mature enough, that they can start to deploy it across their most important and most strategic applications

We think that’s where the bulk of the growth in the industry from a business perspective is going to come from over the next three to five years. I think we’ve all kind of waited for this transition to take place, for enterprises and big internet companies to feel like the technology is mature enough, that they can start to deploy it across their most important and most strategic applications. And I think it’s great for the NoSQL industry that that’s starting to happen in a big way, and I think that trend will accelerate in the next one to three years.

What’s in the pipeline for Couchbase this year?

We came to market pretty late compared to other vendors, particularly Mongo and DataStax. They started in 2007, and we didn’t start until 2010. That’s one of the reasons that we’re not that well known. Now that we’re growing very fast, now that we’ve had huge successes, and we’re announcing on a regular basis bigger and bigger successes with broader and broader sets of customers, our name is getting bigger.

We’ll be making a steady stream of announcements this year. I think, in general, many, many people, whether it’s in blogs, or press interviews or whatever, they’re well aware of the performance problems that Mongo has, and we want to highlight to the market that’s an area where we really shine, and where we really differentiate ourselves. If that’s important – well, you ought to come over to Couchbase.

Image by Studio Tdes

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