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Couchbase sees a blurring line between cloud NoSQL and SQL

Matt Cain, president and CEO of Couchbase, explains why NoSQL is part of digital transformation efforts, as his company prepares to launch a database as a service.

Advocates of NoSQL database technology have long positioned it as offering the promise of increased performance over its SQL counterparts, both on premises and in the cloud. SQL databases, however, have an advantage for transactional workloads and the stability needed for systems of record.

Couchbase is among the most widely deployed open source NoSQL databases and has a growing cloud footprint. In recent releases the vendor, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has been aiming to narrow the perceived gap between NoSQL and SQL by integrating capabilities that are often associated with SQL databases, including support for distributed ACID transactions.

On May 21, Couchbase announced that it raised $105 million in a new round of funding led by GPI Capital. The investment is set to help the vendor build out its managed services offerings, including the Couchbase Cloud database as a service (DBaaS) platform.

In this Q&A, Matt Cain, president and CEO of Couchbase, discusses the evolving NoSQL market, why open source is important and where Couchbase is headed.

Why are you now raising money now in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic?

Matt CainMatt Cain

Matt Cain: If we step back, beyond specifically this round, our orientation is always on building the company for the medium and long term. We have been thinking through what kind of capital allocation we need and how that builds up to the steps we want to take towards becoming a public company.

No one plans on managing through a pandemic. But, you know, I think great companies that have a long-term orientation have the ability to navigate difficult situations.
Matt CainPresident and CEO, Couchbase

We had been gearing up for a financing for some time and had started a process before the pandemic. No one plans on managing through a pandemic. But, you know, I think great companies that have a long-term orientation have the ability to navigate difficult situations.

We've been growing our headcount across all functions with an emphasis on product development and customer-facing operations. So this funding will allow us to continue to invest in those two critical areas and make sure that we are adding to core server and mobile platforms.

Why do think organizations will choose a cloud NoSQL DBaaS approach rather than just run Couchbase on their own?

Cain: One of the things that we're very excited about, which we announced earlier this calendar year and we'll be bringing to market in a short amount of time, is our Couchbase Cloud fully managed database-as-a-service offering.

We've always considered Couchbase to be a cloud native platform. What we have not yet done and, you know, we'll be changing with the launch of this product [Couchbase Cloud], is offering a Couchbase managed solution. So while customers are absolutely using us as a cloud database and deploying in their respective clouds, the additional benefit that we're providing to them is that we will manage the database on their behalf, which allows them to be even more aggressive in their deployment of new applications or their upgrading of legacy workloads.

I think the current economic situation is only accelerating the pace at which enterprises are moving to NoSQL solutions and cloud deployments.

A lot of enterprises may want to move faster than they have in the past and people are interested in different deployment models that give them freedom of choice and lowers barriers to entry.

What is cloud native NoSQL all about for Couchbase? Is it just running on Kubernetes?

Cain: Kubernetes is a part of it, but when we say cloud native there's a couple things that go into that. One of them is a key capability in Couchbase that we call multidimensional scaling and that is the ability to scale underlying resources independent of one another.

People really get excited about the benefits of the cloud and leveraging compute as a utility and when we think cloud native, we think that's really at the essence of what customers are looking for. But to be able to do that in the architecture of a database is no small feat.

Is it still a NoSQL vs. SQL world? Or does that not really matter as much as it once did?

Cain: We're very proud of our NoSQL heritage, but we don't necessarily think about the database world as some may illustrate it to be.

When we talk to enterprises we often ask them what their digital transformation agenda is and what they are trying to create. You'd be hard pressed to find any enterprise anywhere in the world that doesn't have digital transformation in their top priority list and frankly that's only going to increase with the current environment.

We certainly refer to ourselves as a NoSQL solution, but we can be deployed as anything ranging from a cache, to a source of truth, all the way to a system of record.

NoSQL solutions have continued to mature and add capabilities. Enterprises are not looking at whether they need SQL or NoSQL. Rather they are looking to find a modern database platform that's going to allow them to shape a digital agenda that is aligned to business priorities. That's much more often the type of conversations we're having with customers.

What's your view of the role of open source in enterprise database development?

Cain: We do believe in the power of open source. I think enterprises want to be investing in open source technologies and partnering with companies that understand how to not only enable that for adoption purposes, but also support them when they determine they want to make an investment in a particular technology.

So we continue to maintain our Community Edition product and there is a tremendous amount of popularity in those deployments. At the same time, we provide enterprise grade features that we put into our Enterprise Edition, making sure that we build a support model that is appropriate for enterprise grade deployments.

We think that balance is important and we focus on adding value to both of those deployments.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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