Upwards and outwards

MongoDB will dominate “up to 80%” of market, say creators

Elliot Bentley

JAXenter visits 10gen’s London office to learn more about the people behind the popular NoSQL database.

The London offices of MongoDB developers 10gen are on the second floor of a plaza block in fashionable Shoreditch, a stone’s throw from other tech startups like jClarity, Basho and Cosm, and not far from ‘Silicon Roundabout’.

This isn’t your typical corporate environment, even if it may not be unfamiliar to other startups. In the middle of the office is a watercooler with an iMac providing a video link to four of the company’s other offices, and when we return a week later to take photos, there is a large brass band playing Christmas songs in the block’s basement.

Yet 18 months ago, 10gen’s London operation wasn’t based out of here, or any other offices, but Alvin Richards’ flat.

“I started off working in my kids’ bedroom. They went off and explored London during the day, and I used the bedroom to start to figure out what’s going on in London,” says Richards, now Technical Director for EMEA. Though originally hailing from the UK, he joined 10gen from Oracle during its startup days in New York, and a year into the job was asked to establish a European operation.

Sitting in 10gen’s large, spacious London office – the company’s third – it looks like he succeeded. In fact the latest 10gen HQ even has an extra, unoccupied room to compensate for the number of staff they expect to join the company within the near future.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself and go, ‘God, that really was just only 18 months ago’,” he says.

Mongo finds success

MongoDB has managed to race ahead of many of the new non-relational database systems, with parent company 10gen profiting well from its success. Founded in New York in 2007, the company now has offices in Dublin, Palo Alto, Barcelona, Australia and here in London, over 180 staff split between them.

A recent hire is Joe Morrissey, who like Richards is a veteran in the database space – having worked at Sun (and later Oracle) in the MySQL department. Now VP of 10gen’s EMEA operations, he sits with a travel bag next to him: he’s due to jet off to the company’s Dublin office later this afternoon.

Two weeks before the interview, the company received an undisclosed investment (estimated to be around $7.6m by TechCrunch) from Red Hat and Intel – the latter company dipping their first toes into NoSQL waters. Richards describes a partnership with Intel as as a “natural fit” while Morrissey claims that the investment is “a sign of their confidence both in the NoSQL market… and particularly in us as being the leading NoSQL vendor”.

What’s so great about MongoDB, then? As you might expect, Richards and Morrissey have a few answers. “I think we’ve solved real problems that developers had, which is ‘I need to develop things faster, I need less impedance, mismatching, doing my day-to-day job’,” offers Richards.

“And if I do build something that becomes wildly popular, I don’t want to then throw money at the problem in order to actually figure out what to scale it. I need something that can start off small, and then simply add in more compute into a cluster to scale as I need it to. And also scale back if I need to do that as well.”

Joe Morrissey, 10gen VP EMEA, poses next to a couple of well-placed props.

Taking on the competition

Within the NoSQL space – a term that the pair are wary of (“I prefer to call them ‘next-generation databases’,” says Morrissey) – MongoDB’s major competitor is Cassandra, an Apache Software Foundation project with a stronger focus on availability.

They’re diplomatic when it comes to discussing competitors, however, framing the entire NoSQL movement as positive thing for the industry as a whole.

“Having spent sixteen-plus years working at Oracle and thinking of the whole world as a relational database problem, I think in the last four to five years it’s been tremendously exciting to be in the database business again,” says Richards. “You know, what’s the difference between Oracle 7, 8, 9 and 10? I wouldn’t be able to really tell you.”

Yet when asked to compare MongoDB directly to Cassandra, they shy away a little. “There is not one solution,” answers Richards. “The different products have made different trade-offs, and they’ve got different types of usability and failure models, and I think it’s a question of figuring out how to solve the problem.”

Some have criticised MongoDB for failing to provide benchmarks, but Richards argues that, without standardised tests, comparisons between non-relational databases are worthless. “What would we benchmark against?” he asks.

Despite the even-handed talk of trade-offs, Morrissey boldly predicts that MongoDB will be ideal for most applications: in fact, he goes as far to say that MongoDB might dominate “up to 80%” of the $30bn database market. “We believe that Mongo will be the leading document-oriented database.”

Scaling outwards

Surely existing database providers like Oracle won’t happily give up so much of their market share? “Well, I’m a believer in the ever-expanding universe,” responds Morrissey. “The relational database, I think we’ll continue to see growth in that market. But I think, as I said, there’s a whole new section of the database market that I believe will experience the most rapid growth – that’s NoSQL.”

For example, adds Richards, previously uncapturable machine-generated data can now be processed thanks to new databases like MongoDB. “I think that’s the realisation of what big data is,” he says. “It’s being able to take data that you would normally be simply throwing away, or wouldn’t be utilising, and actually turn that data into a utility for you.”

That said, Morrissey adds, the database market isn’t just going to be grown by big data. “If that’s all we were about, then I wouldn’t say that we would be 80% of the use cases,” he says, providing the example of how MongoDB’s flexible schema fits better with agile methodologies.

Though neither reveal specific plans, it seems inevitable that 10gen will continue to expand as long as MongoDB continues to generate traction. Opening new offices, says Richard, is crucial for reaching 10gen’s international customer base and building a healthy community around the product.

“We’re not doing that because just we fancy hiring a lot of people and renting offices,” he enthuses. “There is that demand to have people on the ground, to be able to help our customers be successful and go build the next generation of things. And I think it’s an awesomely exciting place to be.”

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