I recently attended a Cassandra Day community event. If the crowd was any indication of the install base, I would have to say the interest is strong to quite strong. The weather was miserable in Atlanta and people still managed to show up!
You can spend a lot of time reading articles and various ‘expert’ opinions across the technology world on what is the latest and greatest tool. In addition to reading I would encourage you to collect your own data points and GO TO a community event. You’re able to feel the energy and see first hand the momentum of a product – or lack thereof. Vendor pitches are kept to a minimum and the content tends to be well thought out.
This was my first Cassandra dedicated event but not my first exposure to the Database. The schedule looked typical from the technical side and the morning even included a ‘business’ session that included use-case examples. I made an effort to see a little of both.
The business track was kicked off with your traditional endless amounts of data sales pitches and an introduction to DataStax, the commercial company that offers support and tooling for Cassandra. Standard vendor conference stuff.
So who is using Cassandra? I was pleasantly surprised to hear and learn about companies other than Netflix. Don’t interpret that negatively. Netflix is a great spokesperson for the Cassandra community and helped launch them towards the top of the NoSQL leaderboard. Netflix’s scale is impressive but there is nothing wrong with a little variety. Ask and you shall receive. Target, Safeway and Kroger were all presented as current users.
I found Safeway’s Cassandra use most interesting. They are building an app that takes your shopping list, locates the nearest store and maps product-to-aisle within that store. Cool to see grocery chains embrace technology and try and solve a problem every person has struggled with at one point or another. During the presentation one question stood out in my mind – Why no Mongo? Geolocation has been a very strong use-case for MongoDB since the early days of the product. Unfortunately, the overview was light and the entire story was not shared – but it makes me wonder if Cassandra’s closing the gap on MongoDB faster than what the market perceives.
After DataStax we heard from Asurion (you know, the cell phone insurance folks – you lose or break your phone and they send you a new one for $200), who shared their journey to Cassandra. They followed a typical path through NoSQL enlightenment. RDBMS was failing on scale, along with other things, and they needed a fix.
Asurion’s story: step 1, Postgres to MongoDB. Why didn’t that work for them? It boiled down to lack of understanding MongoDB and assuming it was a drop-in replacement for RDBMS(applying the same relational principles to NoSQL and expecting a better outcome), cites the VP at Asurion. Operational tooling for MongoDB was also another reason why it wasn’t selected. Lack of tooling created a broader challenge when it came to scaling internal resources and their ability to use the tool.
But why Cassandra? DataStax’s operational tooling, analytics strength and scaling capabilities were all mentioned as reasons why – and why they continue to build on Cassandra. I wouldn’t get hung up on the analytics and scale comments since these mean different things to different people. Takeaway, DataStax’s focus on operational tooling continues to be a valuable strategy in gaining new customers.
If MongoDB was evaluated second would it have prevailed? Maybe, Maybe Not.
Data Modeling 101 was the most memorable session for me. When you walk into a large conference room and there are no available seats – you know you’re in for a good session. I’m not exaggerating – there weren’t even the awkward middle seats that people leave open to avoid sitting close to strangers. (see picture at the top)
The speaker was patient and managed the large crowd well. There were plenty of relational modeling to Cassandra modeling references throughout his session.
Now for the recap. So what did I learn?
- Cassandra’s interest continues to grow
- DataStax is growing (employees and customers)
- Hadoop compatibility is top of mind
Cassandra still has ground to catch on MongoDB if you follow db.engines rankings. DataStax growing is good for the community and product evolution. When businesses bet their livelihood on an Apache licensed open source product the community will benefit more often than not. When exploring a new technology the ecosystem can be a great indicator of the current health but DON’T just focus on quantity. The ecosystem is a good indicator of if the technology will a) last and b) prosper. Finally, Hadoop compatibility will continue to be an important piece of the NoSQL conversation and DataStax’s seems to be recognizing that and making it a priority.
It was awesome to see the enthusiasm behind Cassandra in person. NoSQL concepts and products are still new to a lot of people. It is going to take time to make a dent in the RDBMS world but it’s happening. As tools like Cassandra and MongoDB continue to put pressure on the relational databases, users will win. Developers will continue to push database technologies to the limits – therefore forcing products to evolve for the good or disappear.