November 18, 2016

A Peek Inside DataStax’s New Cloud Strategy

Alex Woodie

DataStax revealed this week that it’s getting into the Apache Cassandra cloud business with the acquisition of DataScale. While the cloud pivot certainly diversifies DataStax’s business, some speculate it may be a response to its dispute with the Apache Software Foundation.

DataScale was founded in 2014 as a Spark and Cassandra hosting business. Running on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the company’s Data Store Service (DSS) presented a fully managed, single-tenant NoSQL database for its clients.

Following the acquisition by DataStax, the DSS has been renamed DataStax Managed Cloud. It’s also switched from using the open source Apache Cassandra code to using DataStax’s proprietary version of Cassandra, called DataStax Enterprise (DSE). Apache Spark is fully integrated with DSE, so the analytic story does not change.

Peter Bakas, who co-founded DataScale while working as a director of engineering in the Cloud Platform Engineering division of Netflix–and who also sits on Datanami‘s Leverage Big Data advisory board–says he’s excited to join DataStax.

“With this acquisition, DataStax is now able to provide the database as well as a managed platform enabling customers to remain laser-focused on running their business and delivering exceptional customer experiences to their end users,” Bakas says in a press release.

A public beta for the DataStax Managed Cloud will start in early 2017 for AWS, followed by other cloud providers, the company says. Customers who sign up will benefit from services like automated monitoring and management of the database; automated and manual provisioning and scaling of the database; and custom system configuration and tuning.datastax_logo

The DataStax Managed Cloud won’t be the first hosted NoSQL database. AWS, Microsoft, Google, and IBM all offer hosted NoSQL databases. MongoDB, DataStax’s closest rival, launched its hosted NoSQL offering, dubbed MongoDB Atlas, earlier this year, while Couchbase relies on partners for cloud hosting.

While the Santa Clara, California-based business certainly didn’t go out on a limb by launching a cloud hosting business, some speculate that the move may have been made for other reasons.

“We speculate this move may have more urgency due to DataStax losing control of Cassandra in the recent fallout with the Apache Foundation,” Adam Wray, the CEO of Basho, a competing NoSQL database vendor, tells Datanami. “We see this as an attempt by DataStax to find new ways to provide enterprise value because they may not have as much control over the direction of Cassandra in the future.”

As the commercial vendor behind Apache Cassandra, DataStax has wielded considerable influence over the direction of the open source NoSQL database since the wide-column data store emerged from Facebook in 2009.

A public quarrel over control of Cassandra bubbled up in June. Specifically, officials with the Apache Software Foundation were upset with DataStax assertions that it “controlled” elements of the database, specifically the Java driver that’s widely used in the Apache Cassandra community. Attempts to get the Apache Cassandra Project Management Committee (PMC), which was heavily staffed with DataStax employees, to pay attention to copyright and trademark violations apparently went for naught.

ApacheIn August, DataStax co-founder and CTO Jonathan Ellis, who had been the chairman of the Apache Cassandra project since it was created, resigned from the position and was subsequently replaced by Nate McCall, who holds the title of vice president of Apache Cassandra.

Another split surfaced at the end of October when DataStax announced that it would no longer sponsor Planet Cassandra, a popular educational website for information about the open source database. Instead, the company announced that it was shifting its Planet Cassandra resources to its own educational foundation, DataStax Academy.

Depending on who you talk to, the ASF was either justified in breaking up one company’s dominance over Cassandra due to reckless disregard for copyrights and trademarks, or guilty of heavy-handedness by ending a company’s careful stewardship over a successful enterprise database.

In any case, DataStax denies that the ASF spat had anything to do with the launch of a hosted cloud offering.

jonathan-ellis

DataStax co-founder and CTO Jonathan Ellis

“This acquisition of DataScale and the introduction of DataStax Managed Cloud is not a response to any moves from the ASF,” Ellis tells Datanami. “DataStax is focused on simplifying our customers’ operational experience and this acquisition along with the introduction of DataStax Managed Cloud will make it easier for companies to get their cloud applications supported in production environments by people that are experts in running and managing DSE.”

Ellis adds that DSE has always had features above and beyond what you’d find in Apache Cassandra, such as analytics and search capabilities and, more recently, the multi-modal graph capability. The addition of a cloud option continues that pattern.

“This acquisition is part of the company’s overall plan for accelerating our customers’ ability to deliver cloud applications and to make DSE the most enterprise-level, production-ready version of Apache Cassandra…available,” Ellis says. “The Apache Cassandra community exists independently and we actively participate to help make it stronger and contribute.”

As one of the most popular NoSQL databases on the planet, it would be a shame if DataStax pulled back its contributions to Cassandra. With a new cloud offering, DataStax is certainly better positioned to create its own community, replete with instantaneous feedback from clients to DataStax for improvement and new features. Only time will tell if this virtuous development and support cycle continues to benefit those who use the free version of Cassandra too.

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