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Apache Cassandra 4.1 extends open source NoSQL database

The open source Cassandra database is out with its first major update in 18 months, bringing with it an improved consensus protocol to boost transaction performance.

Version 4.1 of the open source Apache Cassandra database is now generally available, providing users of the NoSQL technology with updated capabilities that better support plug-ins and improve scalability.

The 4.1 update, released on Dec. 13, comes a year and a half after the Apache Cassandra 4.0 release in July 2021.

Among the improvements in the new release are Guardrails intended to help database administrators optimize deployments for scalability. The open source NoSQL database also integrates a series of security features designed to reduce risks from unauthorized access. Extensibility is another theme of the release, with updates to better enable plug-ins that improve memory optimization and provide support for external database schema services.

As an open source technology, Cassandra receives support from multiple vendors that provide commercial database-as-a-service offerings, including DataStax and Instaclustr as well cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.

Cassandra technology also competes with other NoSQL databases, including ScyllaDB, Microsoft's CosmosDB and Amazon DynamoDB. A key challenge that Cassandra has long faced is providing ease of use.

The Apache Cassandra update addresses some of the concerns users have had in the past about the open source NoSQL database, said Tony Baer, an analyst at DbInsight.

"The 4.1 release transforms Apache Cassandra into a more modular database thanks to its new plug-in architecture," Baer said. "Cassandra has long been known for being an always-on global database but never known for its ease of use or extensibility. "

Guardrails bring new pluggable control to Cassandra

Among the areas in which pluggable functionality has arrived in Cassandra is with the Guardrails feature.

The Guardrails framework was contributed into the open source Cassandra project by DataStax, which has its own commercial distribution of the database that provides additional enterprise functionality.

Cassandra has long been known for being an always-on global database but never known for its ease of use or extensibility.
Tony BaerAnalyst, DbInsight

Mick Semb Wever, a member of the Apache Cassandra project management committee who also is principal architect at DataStax, said the basic idea with Guardrails is to provide a set of controls that let database administrators optimize configuration options in a scalable approach.

Organizations can have different specifications for what a Guardrail should include. This is why the framework is pluggable, letting database administrators choose the set of configurations that work for a specific deployment, Wever said.

Guardrails can be deployed both when the database is being created as well as during runtime. For example, a set of Guardrails can be plugged in that puts a limit on the number of tables allowed in a database or the number of secondary indexes per table.

NoSQL database consistency improves

One of the core elements of the Cassandra database is its use of a consensus protocol that achieves consistency across a distributed database cluster.

Cassandra 4.1 integrates the new Paxos version 2 consensus protocol, which provides a performance boost of up to 50% for lightweight transactions, according to Wever.

Paxos version 2, however, is still somewhat limited in its ability to execute all types of transactions. That is an issue Cassandra developers are working on for the next major release of the database, expected to be available in pre-release in May, Wever said.

For example, he noted that Paxos version 2 doesn't adequately support full ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability) operations.

"We're taking things a step further to support full ACID transactions in Cassandra 5.0," Wever said.

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