2011 has been the year of the Cloud database. The idea of shared database resources and the abstraction of underlying hardware seems to be catching on. Just like Web and application servers, paying-as-you-go and eliminating unused database resources, licenses, hardware, and all of the associated cost is proving to have attractive enough business models that the major vendors are betting on it in significant ways.
The recent excitement has not been limited to just the fanfare around "big data" technologies. Lately, most of the major announcements have come around the traditional relational, table-driven SQL environments Web applications make use of much more widely than the key-value pair data storage mechanisms "NoSQL" technology uses for Web-scale data-intensive applications such as Facebook, NetFlix, etc.
Here are some of the new Cloud database offerings for 2011:
Saleforce.com has launched Database.com, enabling developers in other Cloud server environments such as Amazon's EC2 and the Google App Engine to utilize its database resources, not just users of Salesforce's CRM and Force.com platforms. You can also build applications in PHP or on the Android platform and utilize Database.com resources. The idea is to reach a broader set of developers and application types than just CRM-centric applications.
At Oracle Open World a couple of weeks ago, Oracle announced the Oracle Database Cloud Service, a hosted database offering running Oracle's 11gR2 database platform available in a monthly subscription model, accessible either via JDBC or its own REST API.
Earlier this month, Google announced Google Cloud SQL, a database service that will be available as part of its App Engine offering based on MySQL, complete with a Web-based administration panel.
Amazon, to complement its other Cloud services and highly used EC2 infrastructure, has made the Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) available to enable SQL capabilities from Cloud applications, giving you a choice of underlying database technology to use such as MySQL or Oracle. It is currently in beta.
Microsoft also has its SQL Azure Cloud Database offering available in the Cloud, generally positioned as suited for applications that use the Microsoft stack for developers that will want to leverage some of the benefits of the Cloud.
Some of the above offerings have only been announced so far, and not actually launched. Or, they have limited preview access available now. Also, even the business models in some of these cases have not even been completely divulged, or if so are very likely to change.
Clearly there is a considerable marketshare land grab existing now. All of the major vendors are recognizing that traditional-SQL Cloud storage infrastructure will be an important technology going forward. Adding a solid database layer to the Cloud architecture story seems like an important step in the continuing enterprise and commercial software move to the Cloud, and these new vendor offerings should in turn accelerate this move.
So, is this really the wave of the future? Some of the major questions that will have to be answered include those around latency. When data requests have to hop from a client application, then to the application server, to the database, and then back to the server and client, even multiple times within a single request, it can result in quite a performance hit. Likely, these machines exist far from each other geographically and might really slow things done, annoying an end-user with the slow page loads. This is probably why most infrastructure providers realize that they have to have the corresponding database capabilities available and accessed natively to reduce this latency. However, performance, along with security issues (perceived or otherwise) still could be a significant barrier to mainstream adoption.
Also, most of the relational database environments that exist in the Cloud only have a subset of SQL capabilities available and in some cases can be quite limited. For example, many of these Cloud SQL platforms don't support cross-table joins, at least not yet. This is a very common requirement for SQL applications. The lack of support is primarily because joins can consume a lot of resources, another performance-killer in shared environments.
Once most of this storage and Cloud database infrastructure gets in place however, incorporating more content-oriented data services such as customer data verification will become commonplace and easy to leverage. We may even see them incorporated into the database offerings themselves as they look to differentiate themselves from vendor to vendor. Cloud-based database offerings have the advantage of making much larger libraries of data-oriented add-on capabilities available right out of the box, so the story here is much more than just cost.
While SQL Cloud offering announcements are all the rage in 2011, 2012 will undoubtedly tell the adoption tale. No doubt these offerings will be ideal and cost-effective for many use cases out there. But will demand be large enough quickly enough to support all of these vendors and drive the innovation at a speed that will make these platforms viable in the near future for enterprise and commercial applications? The answer is likely yes, but the next twelve months or so will give us a lot of the supporting data to measure the extent of the trend.
Salesforce.com is holding its Dreamforce event this week in San Francisco, and its staggering run continues to show no signs of slowing. The conference is Salesforce's eighth and largest ever, with twenty-two thousand attendees. Salesforce and its CRM "Sales Cloud" has always been one of the poster-children for SAAS, and is now riding the Cloud wave higher and higher. It was a product offering originally geared towards SMBs with minimal IT staff but now has penetrated companies of all sizes with its annual revenue run rate of $1.7 billion USD.
The use of the product at large companies is a clear signal. It was very telling during the keynote that half of the enormous audience raised their hands when Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's CEO, asked how many in the keynote hall were from companies with 1000 or more employees. This is solid evidence that SAAS, and the Cloud, or at least the Salesforce.com version of the Cloud, has arrived emphatically in the enterprise and is growing there at great speed.
Salesforce has not only been a success for the company itself, but also for its hundreds of technology and product partners, many of which are at the expo with booths (including StrikeIron). Many of these partners have fared well providing add-on capabilities (like our native, Force.com data verification/quality services for Salesforce) to the core CRM and related-product suite. For example, there has been an 82% increase of application installs from the partner AppExchange this year versus the same time last year, nearly doubling the usage of partner applications and add-ons.
Some other feathers in the Salesforce cap:
In addition to its recent nine-figure acquisition of Jigsaw (a giant, crowd-sourced database of business cards), a $212M+stock acquistion of Heroku, a Ruby-based platform-as-a-service play was announced this morning.
- Salesforce's Chatter product was named as one of eWeek's "products of the year".
- The stock price (NYSE:CRM) has doubled in the past year.
- They have recently acquired 14 acres of land (at a price of $278M) near downtown San Francisco for groundbreaking of a brand new campus, as they are currently busting at the seams at their current Financial District address (spanning multiple high-rise buildings).
- New offerings such as Database.com (a Cloud-based database product) and Chatter.com (Facebook for businesses and business people) have been announced.
- Revenue continues to grow at 35% year, and recently beat analyst revenue estimates (November).
And on and on...
And since nearly 80% of all software purchases are still for on-premise software applications, there's a long way for Salesforce, and the Cloud, to go.
So anyone who suggests that Web-based applications, the Cloud, and SAAS applications are a short-term fad need only look to Salesforce.com for the evidence that suggests otherwise.