MongoDB World 2019 first impressions - NoSQL gets serious

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez June 17, 2019
Summary:
It’s the first day of MongoDB World in New York City and the event kicked off with an impressive range of use cases and a sense that the company is moving into a new phase.

Image of New York City

I’ve been following MongoDB for a number of years now and this is the fourth (I think) MongoDB World event I’ve attended. Things kicked off today in New York City, the home of the company’s headquarters, where I got the opportunity to sit in on, or interview, a range of customers, have a frank conversation with CEO Dev Ittycheria, and speak to the people spearheading MongoDB’s Women and Trans Coders stream.

I thought it might be useful to provide an overview of my first impressions, given the interest in MongoDB, its place in the NoSQL market, as well as the role it’s playing in enterprise data decision making. What I have taken away from today is that this is a company that is getting thoughtful about how it extends beyond the database and the impact it could have in enterprises transitioning away from legacy systems and operations.

I noted last year how the conversations and presentations I was present for were notably different from previous years, in that they were becoming less technical and more focused around the business use case. And this is something that is evidently being formalised inside MongoDB as a strategic approach - whilst tooling and product are still critical, MongoDB is now also speaking and thinking like an enterprise software vendor that wants to help businesses get away from the old ways of doing things (on premise, Big Bang development, siloed) and be a critical component of that new world.

Why? Here’s what I heard today.

Becoming more agile

I sat in two sessions today with two large customers - AXA and Northwestern Mutual - where the spokespeople described how they had been grappling with applications that were underpinned by creaking, legacy architectures and infrastructure. Both highlighted how their infrastructure was siloed and didn’t give them the flexibility to operate in modern ways (agile and continuous delivery).

Whilst MongoDB obviously isn’t the whole story in getting to the end goal of cloud-based, agile operations, both customers spoke about how once they got there the management of data has become much easier and there was freed up time to spend on value add (not just maintenance).

What was interesting was that these were very much business presentations. There was some technical detail, but both were very much about the challenges the business faced with an ageing architecture.

Atlas

MongoDB’s database-as-a-service offering is only just a couple of years old, but has seen huge growth and is already accounting for approximately 35% of the company’s revenue. And what was clear from today was that the attendees are very interested. In the customer sessions I sat in on, the Q&A at the end was flooded with questions about Atlas and how to get there. Why? What I gathered from the feedback is that it’s because Atlas significantly reduces the management of the database (and consequently helps aid operations), meaning more time can be spent elsewhere. Equally, a lot of the companies here today are now at the stage where they have a cloud first approach and they need their data platform layer to be there too.

Not just a database

There are some big announcements out tomorrow that I’ve been pre-briefed on, but can’t reveal the details of just yet. However, what’s becoming increasingly clear is that MongoDB is no longer wanting to be ‘just a NoSQL database’. It is building on and extending its services both ‘up the stack and wider’ (according to CEO Ittycheria). Why? MongoDB has gained a reputation as a database that makes the lives of developers easier. It sees an opportunity to extend that role to other functions in the organisation - so long as it involves data, and it can play a role in making that easier, it may well want to be there. What that looks like 2, 3, 4 years from now...who knows. But MongoDB is becoming increasingly creative in its thinking about how it could broaden its offering. And let’s face it, if the likes of Salesforce are acquiring Tableau for $15bn+ - there’s appetite in the enterprise for easy use of data.

Support and consulting

I got the impression from customers - not MongoDB itself - that consulting and support are areas the company is putting a lot of emphasis. One customer told an audience - “make use of the support, I would send them question after question after question and they’d come back to me straight away”. Another customer told me that they bought some MongoDB consulting time for their first implementation and the advice was invaluable. These, as propositions, are things that make a difference to serious enterprise buyers. They want help and they want support, at an enterprise-grade. It seems MongoDB has been wise to that.

A focus on diversity

I had a fascinating conversation with two people that are heading up the Women and Trans Coders Lounge at the event, which hosts a number of talks and discussions throughout MongoDB World. They shared not only information about the Lounge itself, but gave me more insight into how MongoDB is focusing its diversity and inclusion efforts. The vendor now has a number of community groups that are organised both online and offline, and also has programmes that include a diversity scholarship to attend MongoDB World and an overarching inclusion group that aims to help get all the different communities talking to each other. The impression I got from the people I spoke to was that MongoDB is ramping this agenda up and is happy to fund it. The company doesn’t yet have a Chief Diversity Officer, or a senior exec responsible for diversity and inclusion, but it’s clear that things are heading that way. Why does that suggest maturity? Because modern, digital enterprises that want to be successful, need to get this right. It impacts the products you make. It impacts your talent acquisition and retention (not to mention employee well being). And it often impacts if customers want to work with you or not. MongoDB recognising this suggests it not only wants to do the right thing, but also knows it will make its proposition better.

My take

I’m interested to hear more over the next couple of days, but it was a strong start for MongoDB World 2019. My piece covering the main news announcements will go live first thing tomorrow EST, so keep an eye out for that. However, it’s clear that this is a company with big ambitions and it is vying to become a data vendor that extends beyond the database. Does it still have work to do? Absolutely. But I’d argue that it’s still early days for MongoDB and it has made good headway in a market where ‘data’ is a problem that needs to be solved in the enterprise. If MongoDB can execute on its plan to make data “easy” for enterprise users - in the many forms and use cases it takes - that becomes very compelling. And we have some interesting use cases that will be published over the next few days to highlight examples of that. However, you get a sense that this is a company that is maturing and is working quickly not miss the opportunity. It doesn’t want to be a piece of the digital puzzle, it wants to be a strategic component.