Home Membase, The Database Powering Farmville

Membase, The Database Powering Farmville

65 million people play Zynga’s online games every day. Millions of web browsers open to millions farms and millions of frontiers. They take turns, they tend crops, they send gifts. They buy millions of objects and upgrades. It’s a mind-boggling amount of data. It’s a new sort of data, and it warranted development of a new sort of database management system.

That system, Membase, is a “NoSQL” database optimized for storing web applications. Membase was developed by Zynga, NorthScale, and NHN, and its source code released as open source in June of this year.


Membase is one of a number of new databases that break from the relational database management system (RDBMS) model. The RDBMS has a long history, dating back to the 1970s. In a relational database, data is stored in the form of tables, as is the relationship among the data. This system has worked well to handle transactional and structured data.

But as the amount of information, the kind of information, the number of users accessing the information have grown, the relational database has faced some challenges. With new data comes new storage demands. And the traditional RDBMS is not optimized for the kind of environment that big data and cloud computing have created – one that’s elastic and distributed.

From Cache to Database

Memcached is a tool that was developed to help address some of the problems as our computing needs shifted. Originally built by Brad Fitzpatrick for LiveJournal in 2003, memcached is distributed memory caching system. But according to James Phillips, Senior VP of Products at NorthScale, many applications have been using memcached for more than just transient storage. “People like memcached because it represents a practically boundless place to easily cache data, at very low cost and with predictably stellar performance. No schemas, no tables, no sharding, no normalizing, no tuning.”

NorthScale was founded by some of the leaders in the open source memcached community, and the company, along with Zynga, has taken that expertise to develop Membase, so that the same speed, flexibility, and simplicity of memcached could made to really store data in a database, not just a cache.

Phillips says that memcached is designed to dock next to the relational database management system, and it’s already seen as a “best practice bandaid.” So from there, NorthScale argues that it can help move its customers from existing RDBMS technology towards a database architecture that’s more scalable – in other words, to Membase.

It helps, of course, if you’re going to argue for a move away from the RDBMS to have an early success story like Zynga to point to: the 500,000 ops-per-second database behind Farmville.

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