The rise of mobile apps has created tension in the world of data management. There’s a disconnect between the fast-and-loose scalability of non-relational databases used to handle data for mobile applications and the prim-and-proper relational databases many businesses already use to manage their affairs.
To face such tensions, IBM is stepping into the fray with a new collaboration with 10gen, commercial vendors of the open source NoSQL MongoDB database system. The purpose? To bridge the gap between the new tech of online business with the legacy databases where enterprises already manage their business data.
The Database Odd Couple
Getting such systems to talk to each other is not impossible, but it can be painful: Data transforms and cross-database queries can be tenuous without solid application programming interfaces (APIs) and data connections in place, and such lash-ups can fail when tasked with production workloads. It’s a little like Homer Simpson showing up for dinner at Downton Abbey: communication can happen, but it may not be pretty (especially if there’s no doughnuts).
The effort announced by the two companies is part of Big Blue’s MobileFirst program, IBM’s effort to get a foothold in the mobile commerce and enterprise sectors. It’s been a bumpy journey, because IBM is firmly ensconced in the world of relational databases with its DB2 product line and the WebSphere eXtreme Scale data grid platform. While well-suited for enterprise deployments, such data systems are not always appropriate for mobile databases, which need to scale under variable workloads and be able to handle the firehose of data that could come at any given moment from mobile or Web apps.
Handling all of that data separately from the rest of the business data would make life simpler for developers and database admins. Let the NoSQL databases deal with the mobile stuff and let the relational databases keep track of inventory, finances and payroll – you know, the boring stuff.
That’s not how it works, of course. Increasingly, mobile apps generate revenue and information from that side of the business needs to be integrated with the rest of the in-house data. Or perhaps the opposite is true, and the mobile apps need to get at some legacy data in the enterprise systems.
Again, not impossible, but the connection often has to be set up at each instance. This is especially true if the mobile app in question is an enterprise mobile app to be used by employees.
Big Blue Still Makes Waves
On the technical side of the partnership, developers will be able to integrate MongoDB APIs within IBM’s Worklight Studio to build their apps so the apps will connect to whatever data it needs.
Other companies have built connectors to non-relational databases before, and indeed 10gen has its own connectors to a variety of data systems. The entry of IBM in this space, however, lends more weight to getting relational and non-relational systems working together better. IBM’s anointment of MongoDB also give 10gen a big shot of street cred in NoSQL-land.
It is probably no accident that this announcement comes a day after IBM announced that it’s buying SoftLayer, which will be another tool in IBM’s overall strategy: the cloud platform on which all of these cool enterprise apps can be run.
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