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Why NoSQL database provider Couchbase is concentrating on companies entering the digital economy, like video collaboration platform Seenit, and is happy to leave the others behind

If data is the new oil then companies entering the digital economy will have to get their storage right from the start, and that means moving on from traditional relational databsases. At least that’s what the NoSQL database vendor Couchbase thinks. (See also: what is a graph database?)

Why? "Almost every digital economy business needs to work at scale with simultaneous users," Couchbase CEO Bob Wiederhold told ComputerworldUK. "To deliver a great experience you need high performance and the critical parts of the applications are data dependent, being able to reach in and grab that data is vital."

"We have no interest in being the database for the old companies, but for companies that are entering the digital economy we very much are," says Wierdehold.

Seenit case study

One such digital economy company is the startup Seenit, which helps enterprises like Adidas, British Airways and Bacardi co-create video with their employees and brand ambassadors.

Chief technology officer Dave Starling told ComputerworldUK that: "As a startup we need to be able to adapt really quickly. I started out as a PHP MySQL [developer] and knew the pain of releasing new software and database migrations, whereas with Couchbase we can just have adjacent documents."

Building a video-based platform, Starling knew that there would be huge volumes of data and metadata to store from the start: "So we needed to make sure we were building something that wouldn’t need the pain of rebuilding because we had made poor tech choices early on."

The Couchbase CEO put it in more general terms: "With a relational database you store a new set of data then figure out what column to add into what table. In some companies it can take six months to store that new data. With NoSQL the developer can just do that in JSON [JavaScript Object Notation] and can move the application forward much more quickly."

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To show the value of Couchbase, Starling gives the example of incorporating Google’s open source Vision API image recognition software into the platform. This would allow Seenit to "pass through image data and it will return tags with the confidence levels to say 'this is a bearded man' or 'a Formula One car', so we can then pull that straight into Couchbase documents and immediately search on it."

Using Couchbase allows Starling to push these sort of features out super-fast: "We got the whole process down in half a day and maybe available to users the next day without having to think how the data modelled or querying is going to be affected by this."

Future plans

With the release of Couchbase 4.0 Wiederhold is ready to move beyond ‘greenfield’ applications and start targeting mission-critical enterprise use-cases.

"Many are moving more and more to open source," says Wiederhold. "We have always viewed our business opportunity as being in the enterprise, so our focus is on enterprise developers building mission-critical applications for digital economy companies on our platform."

The problem for legacy companies comes down to switching from relational databases and all of the associated pain points. Couchbase is trying to make the transition easier with its N1QL query language, which Starling describes as "basically a SQL-like syntax for adjacent documents".

Wiederhold believes the case for switching will only become more compelling because for a company to thrive in the digital economy they need: "Scalability, performance, agile development, and must always be on."

Couchbase recently secured a $30 million Series F round of funding led by Sorenson Capital as it prepares for an initial public offering (IPO). "This funding round will take us to cash flow positive and should be our last round prior to an IPO," said Wiederhold.