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I have been in the Software business for close to 30 years now, and I have 25+ years with SQL-based relational databases. Although I have used Unix even longer than that, I am pretty much an operating system agnostic. Over the years, I have work in many positions, from support engineer to sales engineer and consultant. Anders is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 45 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

What the World Needs Now is Database Innovation

04.23.2012
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I think you have heard me say it before, but in this case I think repetion is needed: We should be much more innovative in the database world. And no, I am not talking NoSQL here, not at all. For all the good things with the NoSQL technologies and the movement itself, it's not really innovative. Rather, in my mind, NoSQL sacrifices functionality for performance, largely. The schema-less design of most of these technologies is probably the one aspect I would consider innovative, the rest is just RAM based storage, sharding, key-based lookups and good, old B-Trees.

Talking about B-Trees, isn't it time we retired them soon? There should be better ways if indexing data. Look at something like Mongo. With MongoDB, you really want to have your indexes in-memory, all of them, without that, performance will be awful (there are exceptions though, but in general this is true). Now, a B-Tree is an index mechanism that has worked well, as the structure of it lends itself to good performance be it on disk or memory, although in general, a B-Tree is built for disk-based storage with caching; for in-memory use, there are better, more efficient, indexing (or access) methods. So if an index in Mongo is supposed to be in memory, why choose a disk-oriented indexing mechanism? T-Trees are there, they are optimized for in-memory use and has been around for ages? I guess the answer is tradition.

Tell you what, tradition is a BAD BAD argument for anything in an industry that changes as fast as the IT-industry. Would anyone suggest that Facebook base their hardware platform in Motorola 6800 CPUs? I think not. But the B-Tree predates the 6800 by far.

Which is not to say that the B-Tree is so bad (or that the Motorola 6800 is either), it's not, but we have much more diverse needs these days, so there should be more diverse access methods in use, but the B-Tree persists, despite that.

And look at SSD-disks. Yeah, the future, right? A largely random access style memory hooked onto an interface designed for electro-mechanical harddisks in the 1970's. Innovative? I think not. Apple got it right in attaching Flash on the Mobo and PCI-based Flash is growing and coming down in rice, so it seems things are moving there at least.

But in any case, Flash / SSD isn't an electromechanical disk with cylinders and sectors, despite what the SSD interface tells us. And if the B-Tree works well on disk, we talk electro-mechanical disks. Where is the access methods designed specifically to reap the benefits of direct attached Flash?

And to be honest, the SQL-Based RDBMS, something which I have spent my career with, in one shape or te other, for 25'is years, is hopelessly outdated, but that is not why I'm no big fan of the NoSQL movement. Rather, my problem is just that the NoSQL movement really doesn't represent something new or is a disruptive technology in any way. Where, my friends, is the disruptive database technology? A Technology built for (you are sitting down now, I hope) the 21st century, If you missed it, we are there now, since 11 years back actually, so start inventing.

And yes, I know about the different MySQL variations with sharding, storage engines etc. etc. But that is not terribly innovative or new. The closest we get to a disruptive technology in the database world recently, is the column based storage databases. But thses are not gereric enough in my mind, and also, most of them have a SQL based interface tucked onto them. And I understand why they want SQL, they need this to be able to sell it, as all consumers of database products (most at least) wants SQL to integrate it with some tool or infrastructure. And I understand this too, but it brings up a question. Where is the customer or end-users who is willing to sacrifice using a query language as old as Led Zepplin to instead get the benefits from some new disruotive database technology?

But this is, I'm afraid, a bit of and chicken-and-egg-situation. The customer isn't requesting innovative products as that technology doesn't exist much, and the products aren't developed and research isn't much done as the customers aren't there. This really has to change soon, and I am sure it will. If for no other reason so that I can retire in peace, knowing that my SQL skills are truly outdated and I will not have to work, because noone wants my skills!
Published at DZone with permission of Anders Karlsson, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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