MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria took the time to sit down with me at the company’s European event in London this week, where he claimed that MongoDB is increasingly encroaching on Oracle’s database lead - with enterprises becoming more and more confident with the maturing NoSQL technology.
When I spoke to co-founder Eliot Horowitz at the same event two years ago, he suggested that by and large companies generally weren’t going to rip and replace their existing Oracle databases for MongoDB. He suggested that they may do bits and pieces, but mostly MongoDB was being used for greenfield projects.
However, this is now changing according to Ittycheria, who told me this week that because MongoDB has invested heavily in making the product ‘enterprise ready’ - with advanced management capabilities, better performance and better integrations - that when companies are faced with a choice, they’re often picking Mongo. He said:
That’s changing. 30% of our business is migration off existing workloads to us. Two years ago it was 5%. Ditching Oracle and others, but mainly Oracle. There’s a large bank, whose logo you would recognise instantly, they had a very sophisticated equities trading platform. The problem was that the compliance rules changed after the credit crisis, where they had to track so much information around for auditing, that the impact on the relational database was so large that they realised that it would quickly run out of gas.
They re-platformed that on MongoDB. They were a little risk averse, so they ran it side by side for a while - it was a $1 billion line of business, so it wasn’t something they could take lightly - but they’ve started moving everything off.
If there’s a catalyst for change, people will change. If you have some general ledger application running on a relational database and no-one is complaining, no one will change. But if there are performance reasons, regulatory reasons, developer demand - they will change.
MongoDB started out almost ten years ago, aiming to make the life of the developer easier. And in many respects, this mantra has fuelled much of the company’s success and has driven developers to the NoSQL technology. Even now, Mongo talks in great detail about it’s purpose being to make the developer’s day job simpler.
This is where Ittycheria believes that Oracle has gone wrong. He believes that developers are now beginning to hold MongoDB in the same regard that they used to Oracle, with Oracle falling out of favour.
Ittycheria said that he’d like to ‘reframe the perception’ that the NoSQL market is highly competitive and that their are a bunch of players all neck and neck to take on Oracle. He claims that this might have been the case two or three years ago - with “Oracle printing money hand over fist and ankle biters fighting over each other - but now Ittycheria believes that MongoDb has really separated itself from the pack.
He said that Mongo is now a nine figure business and is doing eight figure deals with large companies that are standardising on its technology.
This is a massive market and one of the nice benefits of being in this market is that Oracle has done a great job of alienating its customer base. When you step back, they didn’t just do it purposefully - the problem they’ve had is that their top line has really slowed down in the database space. So when your top line slows down how do you show growth? You raise prices. And how do you raise prices at Oracle? You do audits. Then issue a customer a new bill.
So you might win the battle, but you start losing the war, because customers start getting so angry with having the gun against their head. It gets old pretty quickly.
A lot of things have changed. Developers want a tool or a database platform that really enables their productivity. There’s a reason why there is so much interest, because people feel like they’re so liberated and invigorated by being able to use a platform like MongoDB. We want to own the heart and soul of the developer. If we lose that, that’s an existential threat for us. Oracle has lost the heart of the developer.
Execution is key
Ittycheria joined MongoDB just over two years ago, following a career as a VC and an entrepreneur. He was brought on board to cement Mongo as an enterprise-grade product and to further scale and monetise the company.
He said that during his VC days he had done some work on the NoSQL space and looked at some competitive investments. And whilst doing his due diligence, Ittycheria said back then that it was clear to him that the MongoDB community and ecosystem was much bigger than the other players.
However, since joining he has worked to get the right leadership and people in place and that now MongoDB’s main priority is executing on scaling up in the market. Ittycheria said:
The biggest risk for us is execution. It’s kind of the mundane but important things. Hiring good leaders. Skilling the organisation. We have invested a lot in employee training. We have invested a lot in leadership development. We have spent a lot of time defining our value and culture. It’s some of the less glamorous stuff. But candidly, I view my role as a glorified HR manager. Most of our issues are around people.”
Companies go through three big stages. The first stage is searching for product/market fit. And obviously MongoDB had that in spades, because of the traction. The second stage is then building what I call an efficient and scalable distribution channel - that’s where I’d say that MongoDB hadn’t cracked the code. So the board brought me in to do that. Part of that also was bringing in a leadership team that could really help scale the business to many times its current size.
We have grown business by 2.5X over last two years. And our employee base has pretty much doubled.
The third stage is scale, where you are putting your foot on the gas. It sounds easy, but it’s hard because you don’t just want to bring people from the outside because you then get this mishmosh of culture. But you also don’t necessarily have all the bench strength in place, so you have to find the right way of balancing this.
MongoDB has made some big announcements in recent months to round-out its enterprise capabilities. Earlier this month it announced the availability of MongoDB 3.4, which included enhanced data placement features, new ‘multi-model’ capabilities that allow for access to data beyond JSON, and a new BI connecter.
However, back in June at the company’s main customer event in New York, MongoDB launched Atlas - its full ‘database-as-a-service’ offering. Speaking with co-founder Horowitz at the event this week, he told me that he expects Atlas to become a significant proportion of Mongo’s business going forward. And according to both him and Ittycheria, the company is well exceeding its already aggressive sales targets for the cloud offering.
Ittycheria explained that being in the cloud business will be useful for MongoDB going forward. He said:
We rolled out Atlas, the growth in that business has been off the charts. And so we are very bullish about that business. Candidly that becomes important because if you ever do have the appetite to go public, one of the key questions that public investors ask is: are you a beneficiary or a casualty of the cloud? Especially as we are an infrastructure-type technology.
Atlas is great evidence that we can grow as the trend to the cloud becomes more and more pronounced. And it it allows us to expand our addressable market, because this is the first time that we can monetise community users. The people on Atlas today are not using any proprietary bits, but because it’s delivered as a service, we can monetise it.
An interesting day with MongoDB - at an event that was absolutely packed. There was a queue to get into the venue and the keynote was completely full. These events are getting bigger each year and its evident that there is appetite from developers.
I’m not entirely convinced that MongoDB has completely beat out all the other NoSQL players just yet (or Oracle, for that matter). We are hearing very similar stories from Datastax, Basho and Couchbase. Having said that, MongoDB does appear to be scaling slightly ahead of the pack and the enterprise customer use cases are coming thick and fast.
As always, this is a market to watch closely over the next couple of years.