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New CEO at Basho targets enterprise unstructured data market

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright March 13, 2014
Interview: Will new CEO Adam Wray and data gravity guru Dave McClure as CTO solve growing pains at Riak noSQL database vendor Basho?

Adam Wray, Basho

As Oscar Wilde might have put it, to lose one co-founder may be seen as a misfortune, to lose two in the same week looks like rank carelessness.

Up-and-coming distributed data store vendor Basho, which looks after the open-source Riak NoSQL database, was in just that position earlier this week when Riak instigators CTO Justin Sheehy and chief architect Andy Gross revealed their impending departure. The company had already lost its former CEO, Greg Collins, in January after less than 18 months in the post.

The announcement of former Tier 3 boss Adam Wray as its new CEO came today, hastily brought forward from an announcement originally planned for next Monday after The Register's Jack Clark spotted an offguard tweet from the incoming chief. Also revealed as a result of further digging by Clark was the recruitment of industry luminary Dave McCrory as CTO.

After this catalog of mishaps, it was difficult to resist the invitation to get on the phone with incoming CEO Adam Wray this afternoon to find out the back story.

A more serious reason for wanting to understand what was going on was to see how the changes might impact enterprise uptake of the Riak technology, which is in use in Workday's backend along with a diverse range of organizations including games developer Rovio, Microsoft-owned enterprise messaging service Yammer, meterological broadcaster and data provider The Weather Company and the UK's National Health Service, where it replaced Oracle.

Data gravity

While it's impossible to know precisely what went on behind the scenes, Wray confirmed that he had started discussions with Basho about the CEO role in January, before his predecessor's departure. He told me:

"This has been in the works since January. The board was very focused on bringing in someone very focused on the trends going on in enterprise, but wanted a person that had operational expertise to really help the company take the next step in its evolutionary lifecycle."

Quite why two of the founding fathers of the Riak technology both decided to leave shortly after that change at the top was confirmed is impossible to confirm for sure, but Wray insists their decisions were more to do with pursuing personal technology interests than any dissatisfaction with the company. Both will continue as company advisors, he said.

Meanwhile Basho earns kudos for recruiting McCrory, who is perhaps best known as the creator of the concept of data gravity, now a popular buzzword to describe the difficulty of relocating large volumes of data due to the physical restrictions of bandwidth. McCrory left a senior engineering role at VMware and Cloud Foundry last August to become senior vice president of platform engineering at Warner Music Group. He is currently working out his notice there before taking up his new role Basho.

"The good news is that in bringing Dave McCrory on we're bringing on an individual we can rally around," Wray told me.

"I had already had the intent to bring an industry luminary on board like Dave. Dave brings that mix of business and technology that's very hard to find in top engineering talent."

Growing up

The management changes perhaps also signal that Basho is growing up as an organization and will focus more clearly on packaging its technology for the enterprise market.

"One of the things we have not done very well is listening to our clients and community in how it drives our specific road map. People look at us and have a hard time figuring out what we want to be when we grow up," Wray said.

"The developers all know who we are, but if you talk to the business people it's hit-and-miss. One of the things we have to do is simplify the product so devops can engage with it even faster and understand the power of what it can mean to use our solution set."

There's a significant enterprise market for what Basho can offer, he believes, based on his experience at Tier 3:

"We ran a large IaaS and PaaS soluton set, allowing people to run everything from mongoDB to Exchange. In that particular environment I was very familiar with who Basho was and some of its competitors.

"I truly believe there's a thematic going on now where enterprises are looking to get scalable databases for their unstructured data needs.

"That's the core to who Basho is, that's what they've built."

Fault tolerance

What's especially attractive about the Riak technology in a cloud environment is the built-in fault tolerance. Its distributed architecture means the key/value object store can survive localized failures, even the loss of an entire datacenter if appropriately configured. This is a unique selling point against rivals such as mongoDB and Cassandra and is core to its scalability.

Wray said that the company's strategy going forward will be to build on that foundation:

"If you can check the scale box, the next question becomes the type of database need.

"Right now we offer key/value store and object store. There's nothing to stop over time integrating with other requirements, whether we integrate [third-party solutions] or develop [our own]."


Overall, a tricky week for Basho but one that, if all goes well, could turn out to be a positive step forward rather than a terminal setback. Quite a few enterprises are already depending on Riak and will be watching carefully to see the impact on the investments they've made. They'll be hoping that all turns out for the best.

Disclosure: Oracle and Workday are diginomica premier partners.

Image credits: Data bank © kubais -; Adam Wray headshot courtesy of Basho.


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