When Telefonica’s United Kingdom operation asked for help on a troublesome e-commerce platform roll out, the company’s consulting firm suggested a different database approach as part of the remedy: NoSQL technology.
Julian Browne, chief architect at Equal Experts Ltd., the London consultancy working with the global mobile phone and broadband provider, said the e-commerce system faced some general architectural issues, but cited the organization’s plans for a unified product catalog as a particular challenge. Telefonica, which does business in the UK under the O2 brand, used multiple -- mostly Oracle-based -- product catalog databases. But creating a single database, the key component of the multichannel e-commerce system, proved difficult using the relational database model.
“One of the fundamental problems ... was trying to fit a very complex and changing set of product data into their one, true product catalog,” Browne said. “Trying to centralize even just cell phones, accessories, call plans and broadband products, with all their associated rules, promotions and combinations of bundlings is very hard in a relational database.”
With that in mind, Equal Experts proposed NoSQL for the catalog project. Browne said a relational approach was technically possible, of course, but would not have been as flexible. The issue: As the business seeks to change things quickly, the product catalog is unable to respond quickly at a manageable cost. The NoSQL system made data modeling easier, which, in turn, made remodeling with changes easier, Brown explained.
In March, Equal Experts rolled out a demo catalog built on MongoDB, an open source database developed by 10gen Inc. After reviewing the prototype, Telefonica O2 gave the go-ahead to proceed with the project. The product catalog was close to going into production at press time.
Emerging channel opportunities for NoSQL
The case of Telefonica O2 may provide an inkling of what’s to come in the emerging NoSQL channel. NoSQL technology, as the name suggests, parts ways with relational databases. Software under the NoSQL banner aims to take on the “big data” problem -- applications that generate or process large and cumbersome data sets. NoSQL databases scale horizontally to take on demanding data chores and, in another departure from relational databases, usually don’t require rigid schema.
Amid heightened attention, consulting firms, integrators, cloud vendors, software developers and OEMs have begun to edge into NoSQL territory.
NoSQL databases have been around for a few years, but their visibility has grown in recent months. Venture capital has flowed to technology developers, and last month NoSQL received an endorsement from Oracle, which released a NoSQL product in October. Amid the heightened attention, consulting firms, integrators, cloud vendors, software developers and OEMs have begun to edge into NoSQL territory. Accordingly, NoSQL vendors are ramping up channel programs.
10gen, which initially focused on cloud and platform partners, now seeks to broaden its scope to include integrators, hardware partners and tool providers, according to Nosh Petigara, director of product strategy at the company. Equal Experts partners with the firm as does Amazon Web Services (AWS), Red Hat and VMware.
NoSQL vendors aim to tap partners’ customer ties and integration skills.
“First and foremost, they have the relationship with the customers,” noted Antony Falco, chief operating officer at Basho Technologies Inc., which develops the Riak NoSQL database and is now developing a channel strategy. “They are building ... a total solution in which we are an embedded component.”
Peter Kenyon, vice president of channel strategy at Basho, joined the company six weeks ago. Kenyon said the company will focus on VARs, MSPs, OEMs and integrators among other channel players. Basho may well have insight into the integrator channel as company chief executive officer Don Rippert came from integrator Accenture, where he was chief technology officer.
Partners already give Basho a lift into vertical market solutions. In Denmark, Basho has a Riak implementation with integrator Trifork A/S, which uses the NoSQL software in a prescription card project with Denmark’s health service.
Verticalization also plays a role in Couchbase Inc.’s channel effort. The NoSQL database software company works with consultants who develop industry-specific applications on top of Couchbase, noted Bob Weiderhold, the company’s CEO.
In addition, the company is building alliances with vertically-minded OEMs in military and government fields. Weiderhold said the company has closed some OEM deals and is working on others.
Couchbase also cultivates horizontal partners. In the cloud space, the company works with Heroku Inc., RightScale Inc. and AWS among others. More than half of Couchbase’s customers run on AWS’ Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).
“It’s important to work well with EC2, so we established a close relationship with them,” Weiderhold said of AWS.
The companies’ collaboration includes technical integration and joint marketing.
Partnering approaches for the NoSQL channel
Companies pushing beyond relational will likely pursue a couple of nontraditional database partners. That’s because NoSQL systems have varying characteristics that suit different project needs.
Cloudera Inc., which distributes Apache Hadoop data management software, aims to work with data managers of all stripes -- including NoSQL, noted Charles Zedlewski, vice president of products at Cloudera. Cloudera’s Distribution including Hadoop (CDH) includes HBase, the Hadoop database, which Zedlewski described as a NoSQL store.
CDH also includes Sqoop, an integration framework that lets developers create connectors between CDH and other data management systems. Cloudera collaborated with Couchbase on one such a connector for integrating CDH with the NoSQL database. The linkup lets customers tap Couchbase for document database capabilities as well as CDH for data analytics and data processing.
“There are lots of other data management technologies out there designed for different workloads and Couchbase is one example of that,” Zedlewski said.
Equal Experts also aims to tap more than one NoSQL database. The company has a relationship with 10gen, but Browne said it may also partner with Neo Technology, the developer behind the Neo4j NoSQL database. “There’s a lot of promise in all NoSQL products,” he said. “We don’t want to become just a MongoDB reseller.”
Some channel players waiting for NoSQL demand
Other channel companies, while open to NoSQL technology, don’t see much demand for it at the moment.
Sanbolic Inc., which provides distributed data management software, works with partners that could provide a NoSQL solution. But the company’s current customers have not requested the technology, according to a Sanbolic spokeswoman.
One reason: Customers invested in SQL relational projects aren’t particularly keen to adopt a new technology.
“I think the major challenge we see is that people have worked on SQL for so long and gotten so proficient at it and everything is so well integrated with it,” said Momchil “Memo” Michailov, co-founder and CEO of Sanbolic.
NoSQL adoption would compel organizations, in many cases, to recode applications to work with the database technology, he said. “It is a tough sell mostly because of the integration issue with existing legacy applications,” Michailov said.
Kacy Clarke, principal architect, at Cloud Technology Partners Inc., a cloud consulting firm based in Boston, said NoSQL is probably not the solution for the run-of-the-mill problems most enterprises have. However, she said her company has begun to encounter interest in NoSQL among customers with issues that traditional databases struggle to solve. To wit: organizations grappling with scale challenges, with tens of thousands of users writing to a database simultaneously.
Clarke projected mainstream adoption of NoSQL for appropriate workloads in the 2014 time frame. She said she believes the database sector will fragment as customers match database systems to particular problems.
“Most companies will end up with multiple database technologies instead of stuffing everything into Oracle or DB2,” she said.
“It’s been a renaissance of new technologies in the data management market,” Zedlewski added. “People are moving away from the notion that one size fits all.”
The subtext for channel partners: be prepared to expand your database horizons.
John Moore is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based freelance writer, reachable at email@example.com.