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March 30, 2015

What Apple’s Purchase of FoundationDB Would Mean for NoSQL

Apple raised some eyebrows in the big data space last week when it was reported that it’s buying NoSQL database developer FoundationDB. For some, the move signaled the emergence of a new group of highly scalable NoSQL database vendors that could challenge the “Big 3” of NoSQL, while for others it was a warning sign for turbulence ahead.

FoundationDB is a key value store-based NoSQL database designed to provide extreme scalability without giving up core ACID properties. Modeled after the Google Spanner Paper, the database recently was clocked at 14.4 million writes per second, or nearly 14 times more than other NoSQL databases were able to do on an Amazon cluster, according to the vendor and published benchmark reports.

What exactly Apple plans to do with such a speedy database is unclear. The company has not formally announced the acquisition, which was initially reported by TechCrunch. “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” an Apple spokesperson said. FoundationDB did not respond to Datanami‘s request for comment.

While FoundationDB isn’t talking publicly yet, it did post a notice on its blog that it “made the decision to evolve our company mission” and would thereby cease offering downloads of its software, which was a mix of open and closed source. Other articles have stated that FoundationDB has stopped offering support. If true, this would leave organizations that have adopted FoundationDB no official source of support.

There are unanswered questions about this acquisition. But if true, it makes perfect sense to Adam Wray, CEO of Basho Technologies, the company behind another key-value NoSQL database called Riak. “NoSQL databases are an increasingly critical part of enterprises’ ability to derive real business value from the massive amounts of data that users, devices and online systems generate,” Wray says via email.

Wray says NoSQL database will play a major role in the development of applications for the Internet of Things, which Apple will definitely be involved in. “Apple is acutely aware of the importance of being able to reliably scale to meet the real-time data needs of today’s global applications,” Wray says. “The news of Apple’s intent to acquire FoundationDB greatly amplifies these points to a growing number of IT and engineering leaders.”foundationdb logo

While it may be unusual for megavendors like Apple to snap up startups like FoundationDB, which has raised about $23 million to date. But it’s not completely unheard of, especially when big data talent is such a scarce commodity. For Apple, the acquisition may not be so much about obtaining NoSQL technology as a way to hire the FoundationDB team, including CEO David Rosenthal, who was previously vice president of engineering at Omniture.

Other NoSQL startups see the Apple acquisition (if it ends up being true, which seems likely) as writing on the wall for the likes of MongoDB, Couchbase, and Datastax, which have emerged as the “Big 3” of the NoSQL business.

“Companies like FoundationDB and Aerospike have been purpose-built from the ground up to handle massive workloads in a cost-effective way unlike the initial wave of NoSQL players who are more general purpose database players,” Peter Goldmacher, the vice president of strategy and market development at NoSQL vendor Aerospike, says via email.


“Apple is the most well-known and trusted name in technology today and their acquisition of FoundationDB is a sign that newer players like Cassandra aren’t going to be able to meet increasingly staggering workloads,” he adds. “Before we go ahead and anoint the new kings, remember that success is ephemeral and in my opinion it’s not game-set-match after all.”

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