Informatica’s (INFA) stock took a serious nose dive, falling nearly 28% last Friday as the company warned that they would have revenues well below expectations. This doesn’t come as a surprise. The market for traditional databases and their associated applications should be expected to drop in the age of the Internet, Big Data, Cloud and real-time processing. It would be more surprising if there weren’t big shifts.
If you don’t know Informatica, they are a top ETL (Extraction, Transformation, Load) tool that for years made a tidy business of moving data between applications in some of the largest enterprises in the world.
So what makes this event the ‘canary in the goldmine’? Isn’t it supposed to be a ‘coal mine’? Yes and no. Information is an increasingly valuable asset. It is your enterprise goldmine. So what’s up with the canary? I’ll tell you.
SQL (Structured Query Language) has for forty years been the foundational language of the database. The language was a hot skill when the only way to store data was in relational databases, the type that made Oracle an enormous company.
While relational databases dominated and are still valuable, they aren’t the best fit for solving every problem…especially more recent challenges. Enter the NoSQL (I’ll choose it to mean ‘Not only SQL’) era.
To get the full context of that statement, let’s take a look at what’s changed:
- Unstructured information: Unstructured information can be of different types and lengths (numbers, text, dates, etc.) and can be found in places that can’t be accurately predicted when systems are designed. The storage methods of a relational database require a schema (a map, essentially) to sort out the elements being stored. Relational databases and structure don’t always match up well in an unstructured or fast-changing world.
- Cloud: NoSQL databases were designed to work across a ‘Cloud’ of servers rather than on a single, large server that ‘answers a call’ and uses replication to ensure reliability. When we moved to multiple servers to solve size and speed issues in the past, we still needed indexes to sort out where to find things. The move toward big, high velocity data is well suited to a system where the data can be anywhere and in any format.
- Speed: A relational database is ‘stored’ somewhere and information is ‘called’ when needed (using SQL). With in-memory computing, we keep information ‘in the room’ rather than ‘in the data closet’. It is obviously faster to keep all the info you need readily accessible instead of going to find it. SQL was built with flexibility to store, find and update information in many ways (through structured queries). That flexibility is an unnecessary distraction in the world of high-speed, high-volume computing.
- Web: Today’s Internet access isn’t about high transactions rates, like processing accounting records for an enterprise. It is about many people looking at the same information but few being able to modify it. That ‘concurrency’ is well-suited to NoSQL databases. It is excessive firepower for a relational database, which was built to lock records during transactions (with associated overhead) and provide integrity and ‘roll back’ if a transaction failed. Today, I want just one person to update and an unlimited number to be able to view information.
These changes doesn’t mean SQL is dead. The significance of these changes is more that SQL and relational databases are going to share time with other ways of storing, finding and changing information. They do mean, though that moving data from one place to another, Informatica-style, isn’t as useful as it once was. It needs to be ‘live’ and ready.
The bottom line
What’s really changed is we’ve moved past the era of information ‘at rest’, waiting for someone to need it, and are in the age of ‘data in motion’. The opportunities to put information to work solving problems through in-the-moment analytics, visualization and actionable intelligence are fast coming into focus.
It creates a whole new world of opportunities for solving health, energy, food supply, commerce and other challenges.
There will be more disruption in the technology landscape in the coming months as this trend continues and investors move toward the software that enables this new world.