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MongoDB adds global consulting to its lines of business - aims at Oracle

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 4, 2014
MongoDB announces the addition of a consulting services practice. The real target is Oracle. Here's why.

Vijay Vijayasankar

Vijay Vijayasankar, who until recently was head of channel partner development has added head of global consulting services to his title. Announcing this on his personal blog, Vijay said the rationale comes in four parts:

My Gang: Our consulting team has some of the the smartest people one can work with. My daughter has a favorite short that says “I got mad ninja skills and stuff.” As I learned more about my new team – and as I spent time talking to Richard K, my consulting director – the visual I had in mind was standing in between a lot of people wearing a similar Tshirt :)

The Client: Vast majority of apps that enterprises use today run on legacy RDBMS technologies. It is not because those legacy technologies are the best suited for those apps – mostly it is because there was limited choice at the time these apps were built . Policies and procedures that exist in IT shops were formulated to suit the needs and cover the deficiencies of these old technologies.

Many clients pay a lot for that choice today . They pay a hefty maintenance bill every year. They are stuck with apps that can’t change fast enough because of rigid relational schemas.

The Product: MongoDB is no doubt a hugely popular technology – a database that gets downloaded tens of thousands of times a day. I don’t need to convince clients to use it – they already love it. I believe that most of what my Gang needs to do is to show them the “art of the possible” on development , operations etc.

The Partners: Every partner I have spoken to so far have assured me of their full support in working closely with our services team on customer engagements . They are seeing the customer pain daily of working with legacy database technologies. Together we can partner with customers to build applications that suit the needs of today and tomorrow.

The changing database landscape

MongoDB's entry into the global consulting arena was always on the cards. You can build a nice business selling databases but it is much harder to build a large business with a product that starts in the open source world. Witness MySQL getting snapped up by Sun for $1 billion at a time when MySQL was (and remains) a de facto part of the Internet fabric known as the LAMP stack.

MongoDB is different. It is not what Vijay describes as a 'legacy' database but developed for high speed web scale operations. It is not therefore subject to the cost limitations with which RDBMSs come loaded. Current estimates vary but the consensus view is that MongoDB comes in at a small fraction of the cost of Oracle, the most widely used commercial database. While the company does not name any 'legacy' database vendor, MongoDB can legitimately attack Oracle for relatively simple short run process applications. It cannot compete in ERP or where there are long run complex processes that traverse different application use cases. An example would be order to cash which typically runs over at least half a dozen large scale processes.

However, where MongoDB fits well is in short run or single process environments. An example might be the booking system for Uber, a relatively simple application that has few conditions attached to it. And there are thousands of these inside enterprise along with the burgeoning startup market. Such applications fuel an entire army of DBAs. Whole careers have been built upon being an Oracle DBA.

The consulting angle

While the cost angle is important, MongoDB needs to steer its customers in the direction it wishes. Customers are not going to simply dump a database because of fractional cost without being certain they don't lose security or functionality. This is where the company needs to pick its spots, win a clutch of referencable customers and convince the market that its value proposition makes sense. Here, Vijay's words are prescient:

I won’t ever tell a customer to rip and replace a legacy technology unless there is a tangible outcome. I would also be the first to tell them if SQL is the better way to go for their given use case. Old relational technologies also have more tooling built for their stuff – and I expect customers to have some inertia in moving away from what is familiar to them.

As an 'old school' IBM'er, Vijay understands very well that customers buy outcomes, not cost savings alone. This knowledge helps MongoDB position the offering in a customer friendly manner without threatening the incumbancy.

My take

At the top of this story I pointed at Oracle and for good reason. Oracle is the big dog database provider in the enterprise landscape andMongoDB would be foolish to avoid testing the market to see if they can displace Oracle. If MongoDB demonstrates that capability at scale (note the use of 'global' in Vijay's blurbs) then it will signal a significant disruption in the market.

I don't expect Oracle will do anything to stop MongoDB in the short term. They might engage in some of the well worn FUD we've seen play out between Oracle and IBM (DB/2) in the past but that will only happen if MongoDB appears to gain traction. Oracle may also look at their customer base for license audit opportunities as a way of keeping MongoDB out of accounts. That is a real threat that customers should consider carefully.

If this move is successful, then it doesn't stop at Oracle. MongoDB can go after both Microsoft SQL Server and IBM DB/2. That won't happen for the time being.

I expect that MongoDB will craft a strong message around quality and the desire to be a good actor in the partner market. This is one area where I believe MongoDB can score heavily because it has nothing to lose and everything to gain from keeping partners on side AND supporting their efforts to reach markets that might otherwise be out of reach. This is especially true for the smaller ISVs.

There will be plenty of discussion about whether MongoDB is fit for enterprise purpose, but the good news is that Vijay is a proven leader in the consulting space with ample experience to draw upon. As an individual, I have noticed that he has learned from his experiences at IBM, SAP and now MongoDB in the sense that he is adapting his battle plans rather than simply trying to re-invent the past. That is an important factor that implies an ability to craft a story the market will find attractive.

This is definitely one to watch.

Disclosure: Vijay is a personal friend but we do not share a commercial relationship at the time of writing. He has also been a frequent panelist on Jon Reed and my video shows.

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