Oracle’s new NoSQL announcement

Oracle’s announcement of a NoSQL solution at Oracle Open World 2011 has produced a fair amount of discussion. Curt Monash blogged about it some days ago, and so did Dan Abadi. A great description of the new offering (Dan credits it to Margo Seltzer) can be found here or here. I think the announcement, and this whitepaper do in fact bring something new to the table that we’ve not had until now.

  1. First, the Oracle NoSQL solution extends the notion of configurable consistency in a surprising way. Solutions so far had ranged from synchronous consistency to eventual consistency. But, all solutions did speak of consistency at some point in time. Eventual consistency has been the minimum guarantee of other NoSQL solutions. The whitepaper referenced above makes this very clear and characterizes this not in terms of consistency but durability.

Oracle NoSQL Database also provides a range of durability policies that specify what guarantees the system makes after a crash. At one extreme, applications can request that write requests block until the record has been written to stable storage on all copies. This has obvious performance and availability implications, but ensures that if the application successfully writes data, that data will persist and can be recovered even if all the copies become temporarily unavailable due to multiple simultaneous failures. At the other extreme, applications can request that write operations return as soon as the system has recorded the existence of the write, even if the data is not persistent anywhere. Such a policy provides the best write performance, but provides no durability guarantees. By specifying when the database writes records to disk and what fraction of the copies of the record must be persistent (none, all, or a simple majority), applications can enforce a wide range of durability policies.

2. It sets forth a very specific set of use-cases for this product.There has been much written by NoSQL proponents about its applicability in all manners of data management situations. I find this section of the whitepaper to be particularly fact based.

The Oracle NoSQL Database, with its “No Single Point of Failure” architecture is the right solution when data access is “simple” in nature and application demands exceed the volume or latency capability of traditional data management solutions. For example, click-stream data from high volume web sites, high-throughput event processing, and social networking communications all represent application domains that produce extraordinary volumes of simple keyed data. Monitoring online retail behavior, accessing customer profiles, pulling up appropriate customer ads and storing and forwarding real-time communication are examples
of domains requiring the ultimate in low-latency access. Highly distributed applications such as real-time sensor aggregation and scalable authentication also represent domains well-suited to Oracle NoSQL Database.

Several have also observed that this position is in stark contrast to Oracle’s previous position on NoSQL. Oracle released a whitepaper written in May 2011 entitled “Debunking the NoSQL Hype”. This document has been removed from Oracles website. You can, however, find cached copies all over the internet. Ironically, the last line in that document reads,

Go for the tried and true path. Don’t be risking your data on NoSQL databases.

With all that said, this certainly seems to be a solution that brings an interesting twist to the NoSQL solutions out there, if nothing else to highlight the shortcomings of existing NoSQL solutions.

[2011-10-07] Two short updates here.

  1. There has been an interesting exchange on Dan Abadi’s blog (comments) between him and Margo Seltzer (the author of the whitepaper) on the definition of eventual consistency. I subscribe to Dan’s interpretation that says that perpetually returning to T0 state is not a valid definition (in the limit) of eventual consistency.
  2. Some kind soul has shared the Oracle “Debunking the NoSQL Hype” whitepaper here. You have to click download a couple of times and then wait 10 seconds for an ad to complete.

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