MongoDB Wizards Work to Make 10gen the Red Hat of Databases

Database designers are the secret wizards of the Web revolution, and they’ve been busy writing new spells. Deep inside the castle at each of today’s leading Web companies there’s at least one custom “NoSQL” database keeping things running: Google has Big Table, Amazon has Dynamo, Facebook built Cassandra, and LinkedIn has Project Voldemort. Seriously.

In fact, the Harry Potter allusion is apropos: just as Harry’s wizarding world was riven by conflict, there’s a revolution underway in database architecture. For decades, the relational database systems developed by stalwarts like IBM served as the foundation of business computing, but today they’re being displaced by non-relational databases, like Big Table and Dynamo, which are better suited for large-scale computations of the sort that big consumer-facing Web services carry out all day.

We’ve seen a movie like this before. In the 1990s and early 2000s Linux hackers created an operating system to rival Windows and other established players, eventually claiming enough of the corporate computing market to turn Linux support startup Red Hat into a juggernaut with $1 billion in annual revenues. Today several of the companies building NoSQL databases—including New York- and Redwood Shores, CA-based 10gen, Mountain View, CA-based Couchbase, Burlingame, CA-based DataStax, and Menlo Park, CA-based Neo Technology—see the chance to steal some of the $20 billion corporate database market away from Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft.

Meanwhile, venture backers are jumping into the sector with gusto. Couchbase raised $14 million in August, and this month Data Stax and Neo received $11 million apiece. On September 12, 10gen, which had previously raised about $11 million from Flybridge Capital and Union Square Ventures, announced that it had obtained $20 million more in a round led by Sequoia Capital.

Dwight Merriman

This is clearly a company to watch—so I was pleased to host Dwight Merriman, 10gen’s co-founder and CEO, and Erik Frieberg, its new vice president of marketing and alliances, here at Xconomy San Francisco when they were in town a few weeks ago.

At the moment, the NoSQL market is still small—fewer than 1,000 companies subscribe to support and monitoring services for MongoDB, the free, open-source database that 10gen created and shepherds. But MongoDB itself is downloaded 100,000 times a month, and it’s already used inside Craigslist, Disney, Foursquare, IGN, Intuit, MTV, Shutterfly, and thousands of smaller organizations. (Merriman says 10gen doesn’t have an exact count of MongoDB users, since they don’t have to give their names to download the software: “We only know a fraction of them, which is normal in open source.”)

“There is an opportunity for somebody to create the Red Hat of databases in this space,” Merriman says. The NoSQL market, he says, “will be 100 times bigger than it is today.”

Merriman has an illustrious history as a serial tech entrepreneur. He’s best known as co-founder and chief technology officer at DoubleClick, the New York-based Web banner advertising company acquired by Google in 2007 for $3.1 billion. With business partner Kevin Ryan, who was CEO at DoubleClick, Merriman started AlleyCorp, a network of Silicon Alley companies that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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