Blog Post

Surprises in our NoSQL adoption survey

James Phillips Published

Today we shared some results from a survey we conducted a few weeks ago to assess the current state of NoSQL adoption. Though we originally ran the survey to gather data for planning purposes, we found the data so interesting (and, being honest here, positive) that we wanted to share it.

Rather than rehash the points made in the announcement, I want to highlight some of the things I found most surprising in the results. If you’d like to learn more about the methodology and questions, you can see that below.

Surprise #1: Language mix. A common theme in the results was what one could interpret as the “mainstreaming” of NoSQL database technology. The languages being used to build applications atop NoSQL database technology, while they include a variety of more progressive choices, are dominated by the mundane: Java and C#. And while we’ve had a lot of anecdotal interest in a pure C driver for Couchbase (which we now have, by the way), only 2.1% of the respondents indicated it was the “most widely used” language for application development in their environment, behind Java, C#, PHP, Ruby, Python and Perl (in order).

Surprise #2: Hating on RDBMS. There was ample room for free-form response in the survey, and a lot of people took the opportunity to bash on relational database technology. There were some colorful RDBMS-related responses to the question what’s your biggest hope for NoSQL in 2012?  And many of them were downright angry. While NoSQL was for a time the “new shiny thing” that many wanted to play with, it’s pretty clear that most of the respondents are looking to NoSQL technology not because it is what the cool kids are doing, but because they are trying to eliminate real pain. What pain you might ask?

Surprise #3: Schema management is the #1 pain driving NoSQL adoption. So I’ll admit that I wasn’t actually surprised by this one, because I’d already been surprised by it earlier. Two years ago if you had asked me what the biggest need we were addressing was, I would have said it was the need for a “scale-out” solution at the data layer versus the “scale-up” nature of the relational model. That users wanted a database that scaled like their application tier – just throw more cheap servers behind a load balancer as capacity needs increase. While that is still clearly important, the survey results confirmed what I’d been hearing (to my initial surprise) from users: the flexibility to store whatever you want in the database and to change your mind, without the requirement to declare or manage a schema, is more important.

Surprise #4: Significant “enterprise” adoption of the technology. NoSQL database technology has its roots in large, consumer web companies. Google gave us BigTable. Amazon created Dynamo. Many of the early adopters of systems like Couchbase and MongoDB were of this ilk: Zynga, SmugMug, AOL, TheKnot.com and the like. But we’ve been seeing increasing adoption from “more traditional” industries – financial services, insurance, automotive, transportation, media, manufacturing – and the survey results indicate that NoSQL will become even more “horizontal” in 2012 and beyond. I did not expect we would find the level of interest in this breadth of industries, this soon.

Together, these results feel like leading indicators of an accelerating “mainstreaming” of NoSQL technology – “boring” languages, adoption being driven by clear pain that is widespread (data model flexibility versus some bleeding-edge scaling and performance needs) and adoption by industries not traditionally known for IT risk taking. Should be an interesting couple of years.

Methodology

The survey was run using Survey Monkey with a mix of multiple choice and “fill in the blanks” questions – you can see the complete list below.

We tried to get wide participation in the survey by advertising the survey on many NoSQL sites, tweeting on the #NoSQL hash tag and generally shouting publicly about it as much as we could. We also, of course, asked users in our database and subscribers to the Couchbase newsletter to participate, so naturally there is going to be some Couchbase-injected bias in the sample set. But our intent was to reach out broadly and make this more about NoSQL adoption and less about Couchbase adoption. Finally, we gave away an iPad 2 in a random drawing of entries to encourage people to participate and communicated that the answers would have no bearing on the prize award.

We had 1,351 take the survey. There were 1,331 unique IP addresses represented in the results. If you have more questions about the methodology, please let me know – happy to be transparent about this.

Here are the questions:

1. What is the biggest data management problem driving your use of NoSQL in the coming year?

  • Inability to scale out data
  • Lack of flexibility/rigid schema
  • High latency/low performance
  • Costs
  • All of the above
  • Other (please specify)

2. Which NoSQL solutions have you used in 2011 to develop/run your web applications to date?

  • Couchbase/Membase
  • 10gen/MongoDB
  • DataStax/Cassandra
  • Basho/Riak
  • None
  • Other (please specify)

 3. What kind of applications/projects have you developed using NoSQL technology?

(Open ended question – fill in the blank)

4. Do you currently use NoSQL for an application that is in production at your organization?

  • Have been using NoSQL in production 3+ years
  • Have been using NoSQL in production 2-3 years
  • Have been using NoSQL in production 1-2 years
  • Have just started using NoSQL in production in 2011
  • Do not currently use NoSQL in production
  • Other (please specify)

5. Which NoSQL solutions do you plan to use in 2012 to develop/run your web applications?

  • Couchbase/Membase
  • 10gen/MongoDB
  • DataStax/Cassandra
  • Basho/Riak
  • None
  • Other (please specify)

6. What best characterizes the role NoSQL will play in your organization in 2012?

  • Critical to daily operations
  • Very important
  • Becoming more important
  • Somewhat important
  • Not very important
  • Other (please specify)

7. What projects do you have planned in 2012 that require NoSQL database technology?

(Open ended question – fill in the blank)

8. When will these projects get funding/resources?

  • First half of 2012
  • Second half of 2012
  • No funding - research only

9. How important is mobile application development (and data management) for your 2012 plans?

  • Critical to daily operations
  • Very important
  • Becoming more important
  • Somewhat important
  • Not very important

10. What programming language is currently the most widely used in your organization to access the database tier from your application servers?

  • C
  • Java
  • .NET
  • Perl
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Other (please specify)

11. What programming language is gaining the most momentum/adoption in your organization?

(Open ended question – fill in the blank)

12. What's the most interesting/coolest thing you've done using NoSQL to date?

(Open ended question – fill in the blank)

13. What is your biggest expectation/hope for what NoSQL technology will do for you in 2012?

(Open ended question – fill in the blank)

14. How many developers are in your organization?

  • 1-4
  • 5-9
  • 10-24
  • 25-99
  • 100-249
  • 250+