Data Centers

MongoDB and Cassandra put relational databases on notice

Oracle still dominates databases, but its peers may be vulnerable to NoSQL. Here's why.

Image: iStockphoto/baramee2554

Oracle still reigns supreme among both relational (RDBMS) and NoSQL databases, but MongoDB entered 2016 knocking firmly on the door of everyone else. Having put PostgreSQL in its rearview mirror, MongoDB looks set to stake its claim on a top-three spot, according to new data from DB-Engines, which ranks database popularity.

The question is when.

Because, let's face it: This isn't going to happen overnight. While MongoDB and other NoSQL databases like DataStax-sponsored Apache Cassandra (now at no. 8 among among nearly 300 databases, but soon to claim seventh place) have made great strides over the past two years, the database market remains a cautious one.

In fact, though MongoDB had claimed DB-Engines' "Database of the Year" for the past few years, this year it was Oracle that "that gained more popularity in our DB-Engines Ranking within the last year than any of the other 290 monitored systems."

As such, even if the long-term trends favor modern database systems like MongoDB and Cassandra, as analyst Curt Monash posits, the future takes a long time.

All the cool kids use...

It's no secret that big data is driving the world to turn to databases well-equipped to handle the velocity, variety, and volume of modern applications. When we look at the world's most popular databases, and how that popularity has shifted over time, this is apparent.

grphdata.jpg
Image: DB-Engines

Hence, over the past year we've seen MongoDB, Cassandra, and Oracle as the big gainers in relative popularity.

Yes, Oracle.

Though it is absolutely the case that new workloads are moving to new, increasingly cloud-based platforms where NoSQL shines, it's also true that enterprises continue to trust the venerable RDBMS for a majority of workloads. In fact, if anything, the DB-Engines data suggests a consolidation of RDBMS-friendly data in Oracle.

That's the good news.

The bad news is "the transition to the cloud is a huge deal [but] currently in its early stages," Monash said. There's a long time for RDBMS to give way to big data-friendly NoSQL databases, as has clearly begun.

An industry rallies around the winners

Not that NoSQL is universally climbing the charts.

While MongoDB jumped from no. 5 to no. 4 in the past year, and Neo4J (no. 23 to no. 21), Amazon DynamoDB (no. 30 to no. 26), OrientDB (no. 65 to no. 41), and Microsoft Azure DocumentDB (no. 120 to no. 78) also rose in relative popularity, databases like Couchbase (no. 24) stalled while still others, like HBase (from no. 14 to no. 16), fell.

Just as happened in the RDBMS world, we're likely to see just a few big winners in NoSQL, with MongoDB and DataStax Cassandra already laying claim to the top-two places on the podium. It's likely that Amazon and Microsoft will round out another two spots, given their cloudy heft. As for most others, they're toast, except for applications that require a specialized database.

We're likely to see this consolidation intensify, too. MySQL's climb to the top of the open source RDBMS heap started slowly and then rapidly accelerated in 2007, as jobs data indicates. Looking at similar data for MongoDB and Cassandra, their popularity with enterprises seems to have soared in the past year, even more so than before.

In sum, we're likely to see Oracle atop the database rankings for several years, but we're also going to see MongoDB and Cassandra rapidly gain on the top-three database leaders as enterprises turn to NoSQL to tame big data and rally around winners.

Also see

    About

    Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

    Editor's Picks