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February 21, 2020

‘Dear Larry’: NewSQL Vendor Trolls Oracle Chairman

If you’re stuck in traffic on US 101 south of San Francisco today, you might catch a glimpse of MemSQL’s latest billboard advertisement attacking Oracle and its chairman Larry Ellison. It’s all about catching the eye of disaffected Oracle database users, the NewSQL database vendor says.

“We’re targeting Oracle users who we believe are frustrated,” says MemSQL CMO Peter Guagenti, who was instrumental in designing the ads and the associated social media campaign. “We’re specifically targeting those people who are current Oracle users who have exhibited shopping behavior for other databases.”

The MemSQL’s “Dear Larry” advertisements will be carried on four or five digital billboards in San Francisco and New York City. In San Francisco, the ads will be carried on a billboard about a mile from Oracle’s headquarters in Redwood City, in view of the traffic-soaked highway, while in NYC it will be displayed near the busy traffic hub of Penn Station.

Still in its first decade of existence and with a mere 140 customers, MemSQL hasn’t been shy about confronting the $39-billion technology giant, which has dominated the market for database management systems for so many years. The relationship has been mostly one-sided, with MemSQL and its NoSQL and NewSQL brethren resembling annoying gnats, and Oracle taking the role of the elephant that ignores the buzzing sound in its ears, and continues to rake in billions.

But the folks at MemSQL say the technological tide is beginning to shift against the database juggernaut. They say that Oracle customers have grown tired of the vendors’ exploitive business practices, which Guagenti says resemble “extortion,” and that customers are receptive to trying other databases that use newer technologies and which will establish the foundation for new applications that blend transactional and analytical functions.

Oracle and MySQL (owned by Oracle) are the two most popular databases, according to Statista

“Our belief is we’re finally reaching critical mass here,” Guagenti tells Datanami. “Data has gravity. Where you deploy your data and how you manage it—it’s very sticky. I’ve heard customers describe their relationships with Oracle as extortion because of that, because of the difficulty of switching and the difficult of moving.”

That’s not to say that Oracle has not provided value in its database, Guagenti says. “The amount of innovation they put in in 90s and early 2000s did actually serve the market for quite a while,” says Guagenti, who also wrote a blog to go alogng with the #DumpOracle campaign. “Most of the innovation that happened in the database market in the last 10 years is heavily focused on NoSQL. And while NoSQL is a really powerful tool for developers, it didn’t address operational data workloads.”

MemSQL thinks it its distributed relational database management system, often dubbed NewSQL, has the right mix of attributes that will make it a winner on the emerging data stage. That includes familiarity for existing SQL enthusiasts, with support for ANSI SQL; scale for modern workloads, with the capability to scale horizontally on industry-standard X86 servers running Kubernetes; and versatility in data types (JSON, time-series, geospatial, CDC, and streaming) to support a variety of applications and use cases.

Despite the increased competition, Oracle remains at the top of the database heap, according to several measures. It owns the number one and two databases — the Oracle database and MySQL — and has for years.

But Oracle won’t be topped solely through the work of NewSQL databases like MemSQL, VoltDB, and CockroachDB, or NoSQL database vendors like MongoDB, Couchbase, and DataStax. Instead, Gaugenti cites figures from Gartner that point to growth in cloud databases – and in particular Microsoft’s broad push to expand its hold on the database market through relational, cloud, and NewSQL database features, as well as growth from Amazon and Google Cloud databases – that is helping to topple Oracle from its long, comfortable perch.

MemSQL is hoping that its “Dear Larry” campaign will catch on with disaffected Oracle users

“Oracle has been at the top for a long time and they [Gartner] predict that Microsoft is going to surpass them,” Guagenti says. “It’s a good news, bad news story. Yeah it’s another legacy vendor. It’s somebody who hasn’t exactly exhibited the most open practice and isn’t the easiest to work with. However, part of that [Microsoft’s growth] is coming from investing in cloud and NewSQL.  So their Azure SQL product, while locked into a single cloud provider is actually very modern, an interesting piece of technology that serves modern workloads pretty well. We put Azure SQL, Google Spanner, and us all in the same class of technology.”

Cloud databases accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the overall database market, Gartner said last year. However, Oracle has not benefited from that growth because its cloud strategy is has not kept up with industry demands, Guagenti says.

“That’s been a pretty significant sea change, where they’re seeing dramatic growth in the database market, but all that growth is in cloud service providers and independent hybrid cloud offerings like we have,” he says. “All the innovation that’s really picked up in the last five years has been from companies like us and companies like Google and Amazon, who are pushing to provide that next-generation of database technology.”

Currently, the database battle is being fought on several fronts, according to Guagneti. That includes replacement existing of data warehouses, such as IBM Netezza, Oracle Exadata, and SAP HANA. MemSQL has replaced its share of Hadoop systems that never panned out for customers. Snowflake’s sudden success has shown the voracious appetite that customers have for a cloud-neutral data warehouse.

Oracle has a comfortable lead in databases, according to rankings.

Another front in the database war has opened up for who gets to make the databases that will underly new applications that blend transactional and analytical functions in support of real-time decision-making, which are often called translytical, hybrid transactional analytical processing (HTAP), or augmented databases. These systems, which blend real-time streaming analytics as well as machine learning, are being used to support downstream applications and dashboards.

Where the database battle is not being fought is for established enterprise applications, like ERP and CRM systems, which will probably never be unhooked from the Oracle, SQL Server, Db2, MySQL, Sybase, and Postgres databases that power them, according to Guagenti.

“There will be a long tail of legacy systems that will never get touched and will happily exist,” he says. “If you look back 25 years ago, the database was an afterthought. Even 50 years ago, data itself was an afterthought. Data was a byproduct of digital transformation. Then all of a sudden, people like Google and Facebook and others realized data was the asset. And Uber was the first company to come up and use data so much better than everybody else that they disrupt an entire category.

“Now what’s the most important investment?” Guagenti continues. “It’s not code. It’s not platform. Now the big investment is in data.”

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