9 NoSQL Pioneers Who Modernized Data Management

The folks profiled here are tackling data management for the Internet Age, helping us all understand what can be done with a mass of unstructured information. See how their work has transformed the way we handle databases.
Doug Cutting
Avinash Lakshman
Dwight Merriman
Damien Katz
Jonathan Ellis
John Quinn
Salvatore Sanfilippo
Andy Gross
Brad Fitzpatrick
Who's Next?

NoSQL started off in 2006-2007 as an edgy, against-the-mainstream name, a counterpoint to the complete dependence on the SQL access language that relational database systems had at the time.

The pioneers of NoSQL systems never said it was their goal to replace SQL systems, which have been the foundation of venerable relational databases for the last 30 years, such as Oracle, DB2, and PostgreSQL. Rather, NoSQL developers wanted to be freed from the restrictions and preoccupation with precision that marked SQL systems. They were driven by the new demands the Internet was placing on how databases operated in the real world.

Here are the key differences between SQL and NoSQL systems:

  • Where SQL relational databases were concerned only with data integrity, NoSQL is concerned with data immediacy and relevancy.
  • Where a SQL relational system employs the unforgiving ACID test, NoSQL invokes "eventual consistency."
  • Where a SQL system dictates a particular data type, NoSQL allows a loosey-goosey tolerance of many data types -- and still comes up with workable intelligence.

Instead of precision with defined schemas, NoSQL pioneers sought an ability to handle information at high volume and high speed. Instead of getting one transaction exactly right, they wanted to deal with a million users at once.

NoSQL offered the sort of approach that a Twitter or Facebook might appreciate. And, in fact, those organizations quickly became big NoSQL users. Avinash Lakshman at Facebook was a pioneer involved in the formation of two NoSQL systems, DynamoDB during a prior stint at Amazon, and Cassandra at Facebook.

For companies with robust public-facing Internet operations – such as social media, financial institutions, and retailers – customer service is a primary business driver for deploying NoSQL systems.

Let's use Facebook as an example. Does it really matter if someone sees you have 223 friends on Facebook when, in fact, a second ago you picked up your 224th? Users may tolerate such a lag. What they won't tolerate is any delays in getting a response form Facebook when they have a problem. Now, scale that out to thousands of servers answering users' questions, and sifting the terabytes of data required to do so, and you begin to see what NoSQL developers are up against. They're tackling data management for the Internet age. And we say, more power to them.

[Want to get real-time analytics right? Here are some tips.]

Let's celebrate some of the pioneers of the field. The folks profiled here have all acknowledged that NoSQL is less about being opposed to relational SQL database systems, and more about what can be done with a mass of unstructured information. There's no claim to a hierarchy in this list. The pioneers featured here are by no means the only developers and entrepreneurs who've made contributions. No attempt has been made to represent all the key developers, and we'd welcome your help in rounding out our list.

Amazon, for example, declined to name the individuals behind SimpleDB, an early NoSQL system that emerged in December 2007 and remains available as a service today, because it doesn't single out individuals from team efforts.

With that, we give you nine NoSQL pioneers whose work has changed how we process and respond to information. What has your experience been with NoSQL? Have you had the pleasure of working with any of these pioneers? Are there others you'd like to see get credit for their work in NoSQL? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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