Beware of NoSQL standards in Oracle's clothing

Yes, NoSQL is ripe for standardization -- but not by Oracle

I think that technical standards could help grow the NoSQL market. But somehow, I don't think that's what Oracle has in mind. According to a report by The Register's Jack Clark, normally a reliable source, "insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, say relational database expert Oracle is trying to form a body dedicated to NoSQL databases, and is seeking participation from NoSQL startups."

Typically, large vendors use standards bodies slow the pace of change. I remember, for example, when JBoss was pushing for JPA and EJB3 to be standardized, a larger vendor dragged its feet while making acquisitions to compete in that space. With NoSQL databases, my guess is that Oracle wants to add barriers to entry and slow things down as much as possible.

Hitting rock bottom through standards bodies

You may imagine standards bodies as happy places where geeks work hand in hand to make sure there's a nice, compatible interface for their respective products to be plugged into. You might like to think they'd do that out of enlightened self-interest to grow the marketplace -- plus, the real money is in the extensions and complimentary add-ons. Alas, this is typically far from the truth.

In reality, big vendors use standards to halt their larger customers from adopting new technology or create weirdnew-old hybrids to keep the old ways alive. There are many companies that, once they see a standardization effort, will wait for the BigCo-supported standard to be adopted before they upgrade their tech stack. Since such adoption tends to be slow anyhow, this is an effective delaying tactic. Meanwhile, the big vendor works to control the standards body.

Ideally, if you're a big vendor trying to slow the pace of the market, you want a nice international standards body. The bigger and more distributed the better -- and more corruptible. If anything actually gets done, drag your feet like the dickens. Best areas for that are "compatibility" with other standards or "security" (because anyone who argues that you're being silly doesn't care about security and thus is dangerous).

The things you own end up owning you

Oracle has a huge business problem when it comes to NoSQL and big data. It is the Novellization (as in Novell Corp.) problem that other industry titans like Microsoft are facing. Any move it makes toward modernization undercuts its existing highly profitable near-monopoly.

Yet the future is coming. The future appears to be one in which you don't throw the RDBMS at every problem and/or make every problem fit the RDBMS -- often at great cost -- but one where you pick the right datastore for the right problem. This future may or may not cost Oracle its dominant position, but it will nearly immediately slice away its premium stuff (RAC, Golden Gate, Data Guard, and so on), where Oracle is used at high concurrency or scale.

Oracle benefits if the future comes more slowly -- and the market is confused by weird Relatable-NewSQL-RAC-DataGuard-JDBC-like-Thing standards that ideally don't work. If Oracle can control the standards process, it can exert some control over access to the market. It is a great place to inject some patentable technology under FRANDterms. It's also a good proving ground for its eventual acquisition of a NoSQL vendor or two.

But what do the vendors think of it?

I asked that very question of most of the big names, and most said they had no comment. I did get a reply fromCouchbase. Rahim Yaseen, SVP of Products and Engineering, said:

It's an interesting move. The reports are that Oracle is focusing on GTM vs. technology. That is very un-Oracle. It would seem that they are realizing that they are once again missing a major technology shift and are scrambling to respond as database is their core business. Modern data volumes and types do not work well in a relational database. That's why companies who have longstanding relationships with Oracle are turning to Couchbase, among others, for new mission critical deployments. Couchbase provides performance at scale that Oracle simply can't deliver -- and we do it for a fraction of the cost. It makes for an easy purchase decision, which is probably why Oracle is getting nervous.

Product plug aside, that is some pretty solid analysis of "The Lawnmower" -- and he should know, as he's worked there twice.

So standards are bad?

This may seem like a big attack on standards altogether, but I think some level of standardization is good for the industry. Standardization is a sign of maturity, and parts of the NoSQL marketplace are quickly arriving there.

Oracle is right: It's time to have some standardization, but Oracle has not earned a seat at that table, let alone the right to own the table. It may be best if some of the highly competitive NoSQL vendors come together themselves rather than taking a seat on an already compromised standards board.

This article, "Beware of NoSQL standards in Oracle's clothing," was originally published at Keep up on the latest news in application development and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

This story, "Beware of NoSQL standards in Oracle's clothing" was originally published by InfoWorld.