Thoughts on WindyCityDB

WindyCityDB has been over for a while now, and I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts about the conference.

First and foremost, this was an incredibly well organized and wonderfully run conference. Ray Hightower and the WindyCityDB team did an amazing job. The space at IIT was perfect. The food and drink was ample and tasty. And the talks were interesting and thought provoking. To top it off, all proceeds from the conference, approximately $1,000, was donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

One theme that took me by surprise was the broad support for relational databases. Almost all of the speakers stated that the relational database still has a place in this new world, along side all of the NoSQL technologies that we had gathered to discuss. This is something I completely agree with, but being a NoSQL conference, I had imagined that there would be quite a bit of RDBMS bashing going on. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Everybody seemed to agree that the RDBMS is a very functional and reliable piece of software that is still very much needed. Everybody also seemed to agree that there are some things the RDBMS doesn’t do too well based on how it is designed, and that the different NoSQL technologies aim to fill this gap. Nobody was advocating their particular NoSQL database as a replacement to the RDBMS. Instead, all were pitched as alternatives, created to solve different problems.

Another theme that sort of caught me off guard was the wide acceptance of Polyglot Persistence as “the future” of application persistence methods. I say “sort of” because I was there to speak about Polyglot Persistence, which of course means that I think it can be a great tool if used properly. However, I thought it was a bit more controversial of a topic. As it turns out, there are many already taking a polyglot approach to solving their persistence needs. This was great to hear, as made me feel a little less insane for wanting to use multiple databases within a single application. Well, I could still be insane, but at least now I know I’m in good company :) Several speakers mentioned Polyglot Persistence in their talks, and I spoke with several individuals at the conference, and after the conference, who are actively using a polyglot approach to address their persistence requirements.

I also found John Nunemaker’s prediction that hosted database solutions are going to be the future of application data persistence to be very interesting. If you think about it, this is exactly what happened with web hosting. Most companies, especially small companies, now use a 3rd party to host their production environments. In fact, I’d bet that the thought of hosting your own environment doesn’t even cross the mind of the vast majority of small companies now-a-days. I can easily see how hosted database solutions, such as MongoHQ or Cloudant, could follow a similar path. You would no longer need to worry about hardware issues, scaling issues, backups, maintenance, etc. It would allow you to simply focus on your data.

Even though I didn’t get a chance to play with it, the WindyCityDB lab was a nice touch, especially for those who had never tinkered with some of the NoSQL databases on display. The lab consisted of several iMacs, each loaded with a particular NoSQL database. All of the databases were preloaded with the Stack Overflow data set. Sharing a data set was a great idea, as it gave you a good way to compare and contrast how the different databases handled the same set of data.

I really enjoyed myself at this conference, and am already looking forward to next year’s. At the rate the NoSQL movement is moving, I can only imagine what the landscape will look like a year from now.