November 27, 2015

Meet the Avant-Garde of New Relational Databases

Alex Woodie

In a new research report, Gartner advises clients to consider the new “avant-garde” of new relational databases from vendors like MemSQL, NuoDB, and VoltDB when projects call for large amounts of scalability and elasticity on industry-standard hardware, while retaining the precepts of relational tables and SQL.

Over the past 10 years, the traditional relational database management system (RDBMS) cart hasn’t just been mildly upset—it’s been rammed, flipped over, and its contents distributed to the four winds. The near-simultaneous emergence of mobile devices, cloud platforms, and messy social data, along with the ongoing exponential increase in data volumes, have conspired to expose the limitations of the traditional RDBMS deployed atop a symmetric multi-processor (SMP) scale-up server.

NoSQL database vendors and distributed storage and compute systems like Hadoop have been the headliners in IT’s new world order. Instead of storing modest amounts of relatively structured data in neat little relational tables and accessing it through good old SQL, as traditional RDBMS from IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle have done for decades, we’re now storing huge gobs of semi-structured data in whatever form it arrives in, and adding structure to it only when we access it via special APIs.

NoSQL databases from vendors like MongoDB, Couchbase, and Datastax (Cassandra) are more scalable, more elastic, and more flexible than the RDBMs of old. But those advantages come with compromises, including not adhering to the tight ACID precepts that RDBMS users have come to expect, and introducing new concepts around data persistency and availability. It’s a case of pick your poison.

Now we’re seeing the rise of a crop of new RDBMS vendors that seek to marry some of the capabilities of the NoSQL vendors—namely the distributed nature of the databases that boost scalability and elasticity in cloud deployments—along with the relational table storage mechanism and the full SQL access method that have defined traditional RDBMSs.

These databases, which Datanami and others have called “NewSQL” but which Gartner dubs “new RDBMS,” seek to deliver these advantages, but doing so without giving up important things, like ACID compliance, which transactional applications have come to expect from RDBMSs.

Gartner analyst Adam M. Ronthal explores this still-emerging database type in his November 18 report, titled “When to Use New RDBMS Offerings in a Dynamic Data Environment.”

Over the next three years, 70 percent of new projects requiring “scale-out elasticity, distributed processing and hybrid cloud capabilities for relational applications, as well as multi-data-center transactional consistency,” will prefer an “emerging” database vendor over traditional vendors, he writes.

Ronthal advises organizations to consider one of the new RDBMS vendors for projects where they can deliver equivalent functionality with less effort and at a lower price point than traditional RDBMS vendors. “In many cases, tnuodb_logo.pnghese new approaches simplify operational details that would be complex and expensive on traditional architectures, as well as make them cost-effective to implement—all without giving up the familiar paradigm of relational tables and standard SQL interfaces,” he writes.”

Ronthal identifies the “avant-garde” of new RDBMs as having MemSQL, NuoDB, VoltDB, and Amazon RDS for Aurora as members. “The RDBMS avant-garde refers to emerging vendors that are complementary, contemporary, adjacent and contiguous to traditional, modern RDBMSs,” he writes. “They will lack the maturity and feature depth of a memsql_logo.pngtraditional RDBMS, but will address one or more use-case-specific requirements in ways that are more efficient, more cost-effective, or both when compared to a traditional RDBMS.”

He describes Amazon RDS for Aurora as a “reimagined” MySQL database with cloud features running atop the AWS cloud. MemSQL, meanwhile, excelvoltdb_logo_1.pngs as distributed, in-memory database for operational and analytical workloads. NuoDB “has built in strong capabilities for geodistributed clusters on a multimodel foundation” with hybrid cloud and on-prem deployments, while the distributed, in-memory VoltDB database “addresses the emerging space of low-latency and high-performance streaming analytics with transactions.”

However, that doesn’t mean that traditional database vendors have no place in the new-database order. In fact, in some situations, the traditional RDBMS vendors should be a “clear choice” for particular projects—especially if the overall maturity of the solution and the vendor is important. Customers should also continue to monitor the traditional vendors, which are adding features in an effort to catch up to new RDBMS vendors, Ronthal writes.

The data processing world has gotten more complex, and the solutions database vendors have developed to address that complexity are quite diverse. The age of the general-purpose database that is a good fit for multiple use cases are largely over. When embarking upon a new project, new RDBMS that were designed for distributed, cloud-like deployments on cheap X64 processors are the front-runners. The age of traditional RDBMs being the default choice are over.

Related Items:

Struggling Under Multiple Databases? Get Used To It

Beyond the 3 Vs: Where Is Big Data Now?

How Big Data Tech Is Bridging the Analytical-Transactional Divide

(feature image courtesy retrorocket/

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