Monday, November 14, 2011

My take on the "warning" against using MongoDB...

We have seen the "warning" against using MongoDB a few times now, and I have to say that this reminds me of other such warnings:
In a sense, most of them were right. If you had, in the 1920's, asked the movie going public if they wanted "talkies", chances are most of them would have said no. If you had told my mom and dad in the late 1970's that within 20 - 30 years, everyone would have a computer at home, with some resemblence to what their nerdy near-20 year old boy was tinkering with in the basement of their house, they probably would have laughed, at best.

But that's not the thing here. True innovation moves things forward. It introduces new things and new ways of doing things in a way that we have not heard of before, and the rest of the world has not a got a good view on it. Look at Virtual computing. This was considered so slow that it was close to useless some 10 years ago or so, but today it just cannot be ignored and is put to good use all over the place (I am now disregarding the fact that this technology is way older than this, I am talking Virtual computing in the field where I spend most of my time).

If something that provides new and unique features, and new ways of doing things, are still slow, when compred to traditional means of acheving similar results, isn't strange:
  • New means not fully developed. What you want to demonstrate with something completely new isn't that it performs as well as existing technologies, then why would anyone change? No, you want to show the new features and demonstrate hwo unique this new thing is.
  • The way we measure performance or whatever we use to measure existing technologies, is usually tied to measuring just that: the performance or whatever of existing technologies, not that of a new technology and a new way of doing things.
In the early 20th centrury, steam cars were mach faster and more reliable than internal combustion powered cars, the Stanley Steamer was more performant and reliable than most competitors.

Getting back to MongoDB then: My main gripe with it is not that's it's not in all aspect mature (it's not. face it, if you use MongoDB you used leading egde stuff. It will break, live with it!). Neither do I have any issues with many of the other attributes of MongoDB and neither that it really isn't even innovative (it's not, live with it). No, my main gripe is this: MongoDB and NoSQL isn't really that new, and this means it is probably a stop-gap solution. In the 1980's running a SQL database on a PC was possible, but slow (I was working for Oracle at the time, so I know), DBase was in the case of a single PC easier to use, faster and more developer friendly. And the way you used Ashton-Tate DBase, by the way, wasn't that much different from how MongoDB is used today.

But the SQL Based relational databases, like Oracle, Informix etc. had more features and was more flexible and standardized, and once the PCs got more powerful, DBase was history.

What really wins then, in my mind, is features, flexibility, scalability and broad spectrum of usacases. SQL Based relational databases, has this, to an extent, but what most of them lacks is scalability across servers in a cloud. In this aspect, they have some of this scalability, but they don't scale nearly as much or as easily as, say, MongoDB or the other NoSQL databases (yes, I hate that term. Find a better one fpor me that is broadly accepted and I start using it).

So what am I saying here? Let me summarize it:
  • No. MongoDB doesn't suck, no way, but in terms of maturity it has some way to go.
  • Yes, a relational RDBMS usualy has more flexibility and broader set of usecases than a NoSQL solution.
  • And Yes: There are places where the RDBMS software industry got caught with their pants down: Cloud environment scalability for example. Also, licensing, if Oracle or MySQL or whoever could figure out a proper means of pricing cloud services, I'd be happy (insteaad of using the pricing models for software that was introduced with Auto-Flow in the early 1960. This is insane. The world has changed since then, guy!)
  • Would I rather use MySQL than MongoDB here at Recorded Future? Yes, probably, but I don't insist, and it just wouldn't work, as MySQL will not scale in the way you can scale a MongoDB solution, far from it.
  • Will MongoDB or the other NoSQL solutions mean that the era of SQL based databases is reaching an end? Nope, no way, José. Eventually some RDBMS vendor will get it and understand the issues and build a viable solution (like ScaleDB or NuoDB or something like that).
  • What is my main issue with MongoDB? That it sacrifices features and functionality for performance. And it cannot add the features and flexibility of an RDBMS without sacrificing performance (look at this: access method: B+-Tree. Come on, how innovative is THAT?) . To be honest, running MongoDB without sharding seems like a useless excercise to me. If you don't need the scalability that this setup can provide you with, you have better options. (but this is just me talking here.)
  • With MongoDB hang around for long? Yes, probably, but it will not be that hot for as long at SQL based databases. The reason is that compared to a traditional RDBMS it provides just one big advantage (a big advantage, yes, but just one): Performance. Which is why we use it. Remember the Stanley Steamer? Old hat today, but it was the hottest thing you could drive some 100 years ago or so. And this is what cloud computing is all about, a constant change of technology to get the best value for money right now, and to be on constant lookout for new technologies that drives features and performance.


Sean Hull said...

640k is enough! Great post Karlsson. I completely agree. A lot of folks are threatened by new technologies. Does Mongo fit every problem, nope. Does it solve some cloud scaling problems well, you betcha!

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