MongoDB cloud chief explains the value add that Atlas brings for modern data companies

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez September 26, 2019
It’s been three years since MongoDB launched its cloud platform, Atlas. SVP of Cloud Products, Sahir Azam, details the ‘value add’ of MongoDB in the cloud.

Image of an tablet being used against a cloud backdrop

MongoDB is positioning itself as a modern data platform, rather than just a database, as it extends its Atlas cloud services. Atlas launched back in 2016 to much fanfare, and since then the vendor has been expanding its capabilities, as well as going to market with the world’s largest infrastructure providers - AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. 

The company’s Atlas proposition has seen the introduction of a number of new services, such as Stitch, Full Text Search, Realm for mobile developers, as well as Atlas Data Lake as an alternative to Hadoop. The idea being that if MongoDB can “unleash” the productivity of the developer in the cloud, this will allow enterprises to focus on the value-add of building applications to compete. And if MongoDB’s recent results are anything to go by, Atlas is gaining traction in the market. 

I got the chance to sit down with Sahir Azam, MongoDB’s SVP of Cloud Products, at the company’s ‘local’ event this week in London. Azam spoke specifically about MongoDB expanding around the core to enable this ‘easy to use’ data platform for modern applications and enterprises. He said: 

So I think a big part of the next 18 to 24 months is really, for the first time, executing on our strategy of saying MongoDB is query language - our core IP around dealing with modern data extends much beyond just that operational database layer and is becoming a data platform in a way that's independent of different use cases, but also independent of the major cloud providers is a unique vision in the market.

Atlas Data Lake

One key service that corroborates this is MongoDB’s introduction of the Atlas Data Lake. When Data Lake was launched earlier this year, it was pitched as an alternative to Hadoop and an easy way for enterprises to make use of data with potentially high value uses, but is stored in volume in S3. 

Azam added some more colour to this idea, thanks to MongoDB now seeing evidence of use cases in play since Data Lake launched. He explained: 

I’m very bullish on the future of that product, getting early feedback. The use cases right now - it's largely still an independent service - tends to be a customer that has data sitting in S3, and they want to be able to query it using the MongoDB query language. It could be JSON data, which there's certainly plenty of in the world, or it could be other file formats. There's all these other formats now that people can query with the MongoDB query language, in a way that's much broader.

“So one of our design partners, for example, they have data for different business units. They've got an oil and gas business unit, with a lot of oil and gas industry data. They've got a bunch of financial data, in their financial services arm. And then they've got worldwide logistics, like shipping. So, for the first time they're looking at the ability to query, to be able to say - ‘the prices of oil shoot up by a certain percentage in a certain market, and the production of particular wells in a different part of the globe matches that demand curve, tie together those pieces of information to actually reroute a tanker from one destination to another, if it changes while it's already in route’. 

Azam said that organisations can now connect all this data that was sitting in different silos, which he states was previously “impossible” because it either wouldn’t all merge into one database or because of data ownership issues. He added:

Now it's just ‘dump all this data in S3 and then we can rest query it in place’.

The value proposition for the enterprise

MongoDB knows and understands that in order to build for future growth - and in order to stay relevant - this value add needs to extend beyond the database itself. It’s not often I meet a senior technology buyer and they point to the database as a key enabler to innovation. Data itself, however, is high on the agenda and is a challenge that most enterprises are grappling with. Therefore, by positioning itself as a data platform for modern applications, MongoDB becomes strategic. 

There are a number of key elements to this, according to Azam. Firstly, MongoDB’s ability to bring different data components together, easily. He said: 

Part of the value proposition is our expressive query language - being able to pull all types of different data together, is now made possible for large volumes of analytics in a way that isn't just files or format of JSON, which is our core sort of foundational format of the database. 

It could be flat file, CSV, TSV, all these other formats. And I think the value prop is the fact that the query language is much more expressive in being able to match all those different types, than trying to take a SQL model and map it to all these sort of various types.

Equally, MongoDB continues to build on the idea of developer productivity, and ease of use of the platform, as key to allowing enterprises to focus on what they deem important and innovative. Azam added: 

Every CTO/CIO is worried about how they can build better applications, faster, to either compete against incumbents in their market or aggressively go after new opportunities. Once that’s established, the value proposition to an executive of having a database that unleashes developer productivity in a much more natural way than the incumbent relational model that was invented 40 years ago to store accounting information, is still a foundational differentiator for us. 

If you still have a relational model, it still slows down development at scale. Every single senior leader right now is thinking about how they can unleash that velocity for their development team. It also has a recruiting benefit too. There’s a war for development talent - they want to work with modern technologies. That is front and centre.

And finally, Azam points to the headway that MongoDB has made with Atlas being central to multi-cloud strategy. This year we have seen increased evidence that multi-cloud is the future for most enterprise cloud buyers. They’re just not going all in with one provider. To this end, MongoDB has made deals with AWS, Azure and GCP to become more tightly integrated - whether that be features, or customer support and billing. This should also play to its advantage going forward. Azam said: 

Most enterprises, almost every customer here, whether it's now or in the future, there's a multi cloud strategy for a variety of reasons, right? Not only just the business vendor lock-in thing, but there's different services that are interesting. 

A lot of times larger organisations acquire a company that's using a different public cloud, are they going to migrate everything over to one? No. And so this layer that's been the stickiest and hardest to move, has been the transactional database. So I think we play an interesting sort of position in the market.


However, no company is without its challenges and MongoDB is no different. MongoDB’s are twofold - one is scale, the other is execution as it differentiates. Azam explained: 

I think the main thing for us is just that we are growing so fast. Just operationally scaling the execution - that's top of mind for every executive in the company. Keeping up with the scale and growth of the company, in terms of hiring people and operationalising and building the processes. That is by far the number one thing. Internal execution. 

We’ve also transitioned the company from a commercial software/open source company to now a large scale cloud provider, right? So we've become a multi product, multi solution company. And you know, we’ve talked about more and more products. So just making sure that we do all the right things to educate the market, educate the customers that there's a lot more value in working with MongoDB than just the open source database that you've thought of for the last 10 years. Getting that message out, working with customers on our behalf and drive scale.