22 June 2009

Zealous. Conviction.

Some might consider a blog dedicated to the relational model, relational databases, and the extinction of xml as datastore rather quixotic. Zealous, even. This month marks the 39th anniversary of Dr. Codd's public paper; the 40th of the first paper, internal at IBM, is in August. All along, Dr. Codd, and Chris Date most prominently of those who followed, asserted that the relational model and the database were logical constructs. In particular, physical implementation was a vendor detail; vendors were free to use any hardware and coding they wished to support the relational database.

Early on, the implementation of the join was seen to be a stumbling block. Hardware based on rotating storage had to be supplemented with ever more ingenious buffering to make joins less costly. Today, industrial strength RDBMS as Oracle and DB2 with sophisticated RAID disk subsystems can support high normal form relational databases. But they are not only expensive to acquire, but expensive to maintain. They require lots of vendor specific knowledge, since the file structures and buffer structures are not defined either in the relational model or in SQL (not strictly even a part of the relational model, but few understand that).

I, and others, made the connection a few years ago, that freeing the relational database from rotating storage meant that any logical database structure, in particular those of high normal form, would be hardware neutral with a machine built on multi-cores/multi-processors with solid state disk storage; even with current products. Nirvana had been reached.

Here in rural Connecticut, as other locations I will admit, the mainframe/COBOL/VSAM mindset (hidebound as it is) still holds sway. Yet I continue to preach. Some say, zealously. Though I haven't yet delved into the xml morass, I have acquired one knucklehead correspondent. Not "Database Debunking" territory, but there is always hope. I gather that some nerve has been pinched. That is a good thing. The TCO equation is becoming ever more difficult to ignore. The ever more widespread development of SSD, and more importantly, NAND controllers make it all inevitable. Any vendor with access to NAND and an OEM controller will be able to produce these drives.

Which brings me to the zealous. Not I, believe it or not. I first became aware of SSD with Texas Memory Systems. But they dealt, at that time, in hundreds of kilobuck DRAM based hardware. It was only in the last few months, with the Intel X-25 parts, that I became aware of flash SSD; turns out that flash SSD had been around for some time, just not very good until the Intel drives. From there I found STEC, which, by all accounts, is the numero uno enterprise vendor. They also are not shy about making their case. This past week, the principals were interviewed by a trade organ and the CEO had this to say:

"To say that they [new and existing vendors] are competing with STEC is really a misunderstanding. We don't have a direct competitor today. We've got the five customers worldwide that we went after. Basically, we have all of our target customers."

The COO, his brother:

"We see in the next three or four years flash drives from STEC and others wiping out the whole hard drive industry for high-end storage. The biggest guys in the industry are forced to follow in our footsteps instead of us following them."

Of course, they would say good things about their business. The thing is, the industry analysts agree. The fact that there are others in the industry *trying* to take the business is far more significant. If no other storage manufacturer cared, and if there were no startups and micro-cap privates working on flash SSD drives, flash SSD controllers, flash NAND replacements; then SSD, it could be argued, would just be the niche product it has been for decades with Texas Memory having it largely to itself. Texas Memory now ships flash SSD, in addition to its DRAM machines.

Repeat: "wiping out the whole hard drive industry for high-end storage". But, it looks to me that along with STEC dominating high end, Intel et al will wipe out HDD in consumer computers. Not that this is directly relevant to the RDBMS world in which I live. I left dBase II behind some time ago.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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