The relational database has had an astonishingly good run over the last few decades, but new data from Morgan Stanley suggests it may be coming to an end. Sure, change comes slowly in database land, but that change does seem real. In fact, according to the Morgan Stanley research, among all the interest in a variety of “new stack” software, NoSQL databases have a particular shine.
Buying into the “new stack”
While the Morgan Stanley research team doesn’t seem to offer a concrete definition for “new stack” technologies, it does suggest that such technologies include “new concepts such as agile development and devops... that drive higher developer productivity, more complete automation, and, ultimately, faster software development.” Later Morgan Stanley details key categories in this new stack world:
- Developer planning and automation tools
- NoSQL databases
- Low code / no-code app platforms
- iPaaS and API management
- Modern performance monitoring and log analysis
- Container and cloud system software
- PaaS / CaaS platforms
- Data integration as a service
- Software-defined networking services
While various public cloud companies may offer these services, the Morgan Stanley team reserves the new stack characterization for non-public cloud providers. Take away those public cloud providers, and the market still stands at a whopping $22 billion in 2018, and could top $48 billion in 2022.
That’s huge growth.
Even more fascinating, the biggest of the new stack winners is the NoSQL database, expected to pull in $13.3 billion by 2022:
That’s a lot of new money, but it arguably is being driven by the same old reasons for embracing NoSQL: schema flexibility, horizontal scale, and more.
Saying “Yes” to NoSQL
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After all, as former MongoDB (and current GitHub) executive Kelly Stirman once explained, there’s a reason enterprises may move on to new technologies relatively quickly, but the database decision usually gets pushed out: “The database has the most inertia. It’s the hardest thing to move because it has state. And it has the most valuable asset, the data itself.”
Or, to quote Gartner analyst Merv Adrian, “The greatest force in legacy DBMS is inertia.” Why? Because “When someone has invested in the schema design, physical data placement, network architecture, etc. around a particular tool, that doesn’t get lifted and shifted easily.”
Unconvinced? Meander over to the DB-Engines database popularity ranking and you’ll see this played out. Yes, MongoDB, Apache Cassandra, Redis, and Elasticsearch have all made it into the top 10 databases, but their relational ancestors remain at the top of the heap.
Even so, in the nearly 10 years that I’ve been following that ranking, NoSQL databases have steadily gained on these frontrunners. Morgan Stanley’s data suggests that “old stack” infrastructures could be overcome by new stack technologies by 2028:
It’s hard to know exactly how much credence to give these numbers, given that we don’t know exactly what factors into the “old stack” spending, but the general trajectory of new stack spending, led by NoSQL, should be heartening to developers.
As Sanjit Singh, a Morgan Stanley equity analyst covering Enterprise Infrastructure and Business Analytics, states, “A key inflection point has been reached. We see new stack technologies as key beneficiaries, given the critical role they play in increasing development velocity, enhancing developer productivity, and automating IT operations.”
And, again, the biggest beneficiary of the new stack category is the NoSQL database.
I’ve been writing about this for years, calling out the NoSQL space back in 2014 as key to future enterprise workloads. The reasons are several. While the relational database has performed admirably for a long time, old stack relational databases are losing relevance in a world that measures data in terabytes or petabytes, not gigabytes. Old-school applications needed complex joins and ad hoc queries. New-school applications need flexible schema to be able to respond to ever-changing data requirements with low latency and the ability to handle millions of requests per second.
Of course we’re not going to see NoSQL displace relational databases for existing workloads anytime soon, and perhaps never. There’s just too much friction. But developers no longer have to shove new data requirements into old methods of handling that data. And if Morgan Stanley’s data is to be believed, they’re going to drive more of their employers to embrace NoSQL in a big way.