What Are NoSQL Databases?

In the constant struggle to create adequate means for storing the exponentially growing quantities of digital data in the world, a variety of new data storage techniques have cropped up in the past few years. This onslaught of new technology can prove overwhelming and leave a lot of gaps in one’s understanding of data storage as it stands today, so here’s an article to help readers better understand one of the most promising new developments in the IT realm: NoSQL databases.

nosql2NoSQL databases were created as a way for organizations to avoid data deluge. NoSQL isn’t one specific database product, but rather a term that refers to a particular kind of database which is then incorporated by different vendors for different uses. What is the binding characteristic common to all NoSQL products? NoSQL products don’t use the relational-database model of traditional SQL-style databases.

Back up- what’s a “traditional” database, exactly? For the past few decades, most databases have been built based on the premise that before you can start storing data, you have to set up where it’s going to go. That can mean creating tables, storing different pieces of data in particular tables, and then retrieving data using the table’s structure.

Traditional databases work fine given that you understand what kind of structure your data will actually take and can make a decent prediction in terms of how much data you will be working with. If your data storage needs are a little less predictable, this framework isn’t going to be the most helpful tool.

That’s when it’s time to learn about NoSQL databases. These allow you to input data into a database without first defining any data storage dorms. NoSQL databases require much less coding than traditional databases, and enables users to retrieve data more quickly, sidestepping the process by which they would instruct the program as to where to find the data in a traditional database.

NoSQL databases also scale better than traditional databases due to their ability to run fairly painlessly on distributed and/or clustered environments. That means a NoSQL database can run over multiple servers simultaneously and still look like a single database to your app. Users that need to add additional storage unexpectedly appreciate this feature, and it’s become a significant convenience in an IT world where the cloud and IoT devices have imposed rapidly changing data storage needs on organizations.

Indeed, NoSQL databases have the distinct look of technology built after clusters and the cloud became data storage norms. They facilitate processes that are clumsy on traditional databases, which require risky processes like “sharding” that involve expensive hardware where NoSQL databases work on cheaper servers.

nosql3The final key advantage to NoSQL databses? They’re open source, enabling serious issues to be avoided as the technology developed.

And who developed NoSQL? As stated earlier, NoSQL is a type of database as opposed to a particular database product. A variety of iterations of NoSQL databases have been developed by many different makers, though the core of these tend to be somewhat related to either MongoDB, Apache Cassandra, and Redis.

Of course, the list of NoSQL vendors is much longer than those three. However, like many other open source projects out there (like OpenStack or Linux), these core NoSQL databses are available as distributions provided by a heaping handful of companies. IBM, for example, has a Cassandra offering despite the fact that IBM had no part in actually developing Cassandra. MongoDB is also an open source project, yet there is a MongoDB company that offers a commercial version of the virtually free database.

While the future of NoSQL databases will be as vulnerable to change as the data storage industry itself, they’re definitely a useful tool in contemporary times.

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