DataStax: were ready to take on the mighty MongoDB
DataStax CTO Jonathan Ellis on gearing up for future market tussles, and nurturing Facebooks abandoned fledgling
When we meet at the Cassandra Summit Europe, DataStax CTO
Jonathan Ellis is fresh from announcing
the online ‘Java Development with Apache
training centre. Whilst the European Cassandra community
is relatively small, judging from the buzz of positive feedback on
the floor, we can expect it to grow at a robust pace in the next
The Apache NoSQL database’s future didn’t always
look so certain though. Developed by Facebook to power
its Inbox feature, Cassandra went on to become one
of its many open sourced projects. With a few
exceptions (Thrift, for example), this is, according to Ellis,
usually to to the detriment of the project, with the intention
often more to demonstrate the power of the all-conquering Facebook
devs machine than a genuine intention to grow and foster a
community around it.
Enter Ellis, who at the time was looking to
solve a file metadata conundrum for US company Mozy, centered on
the fact that the Oracle database they were employing simply
couldn’t keep pace with their millions of users – a problem many
businesses at the time were grappling
He told Rackspace that he was interested in
building a scalable database, pointing out that, “More and more
companies are building these web applications where that’s the
bottleneck”. The upshot of this was a new role for Ellis,
building a scalable database that Rackspace could use internally.
In the process, he was tasked with evaluating the different
NoSQL systems available at the time, which included MongoDB,
Voldemort (remember them?), and of course, Cassandra.
Having handed the code and trademark of
Cassandra to the Apache Foundation, Facebook had dusted off their
hands and left the project to the mercy of the
wild. At which point, Ellis went to Apache and said, “I’ve
been maintaining this for a few months now, I’ve been dealing with
bug reports and fixes and new features, so you should probably make
me a committer and I can help you guys out”.
The rest, as they say, was history.
Unusually, Ellis found himself in the position
of simultaneously building a community around the product as he was
developing it. After working at Rackspace for a year and a half, he
took the decision to form DataStax and take it “to the next
From the outset, DataStax had the objective of
building a more interesting product on top of Cassandra, and, about
a year and a half after its inception, the company
released DataStax Enterprise 1.0. The
product integrates analytics and search support on top of
Cassandra, security features and ops centre integration, as well as
the recent addition of DevCenter (more on
that in a second), making it “really a full featured data platform
on top of open source Cassandra”.
Inspired by schema browsers and query tools in
the relational world, Ellis is keen to emphasise that DevCenter is
the first graphical query manager for a NoSQL product. Among other
features, it allows users to connect to their local test centre,
save scripts, and replay them later.
Breaking down ‘NoSQL’
Although some may draw comparisons between
Cassandra and other products in the sector, he notes that one of
the current issues of flying under the NoSQL banner is that it can
denote so many different permutations of the system.
“You’ve got graph
databases, key value databases, document databases, document
stores…And then you’ve got things like Cassandra, and we’re like,
“Hey, we’re pretty relation-ish, we’ve got CQL, and we’ve got rows
and columns, but we’re also about scaling. We’re not doing ACID
transactions because that stops us from scaling the way we want to.
There’s a lot of different things in NoSQL”.
Although Ellis believes that it was valuable
early on in the NoSQL movement to be able to pin a concrete label
on an Oracle alternative, and be able to show that
“not every nail is fit for that hammer”,
the downside is that, “there are people saying, well, Cassandra and
MongoDB, they’re both NoSQL so they must be interchangeable at that
level. Not really the case”.
Well, for now at least. Ellis predicts a lot of
consolidation in the NoSQL market moving forward, with clear market
leaders and ‘also rans’ emerging in the next few years. For now, he
believes MongoDB is more of a MySQL competitor, commenting that,
“MySQL is owned by Oracle now, and at DataStax we’re driving
Cassandra at the high end of the Oracle market”.
That being said, he is well aware that MongoDB will tell
prospective clients that they can scale as well as Cassandra,
something that he says is, “not true – but that’s what they’d tell
you. So there’s definitely some competition looming on the horizon
there, and at the same time, we’re looking at making Cassandra
easier to use and kind of moving into MondoDB’s home turf there as
A battle with the world’s most valuable (on paper at least)
NoSQL providers might have some frantically diversifying – but
Ellis is sticking to his guns. And having survived Facebook’s
absentee parentism, seen off a host of competitors, and fostered a
whole new wave of Cassandra aficionados, DataStax might just be the
one to watch to KO the mighty Mongo one day.