RDBMS: Tired Software?

Michael Stonebraker calls RDBMs “Tired Software”. Stonebraker is a well known guru in the DBMS community. As the architect of Berkeley Ingres, Postgres, Illustra and Streambase, he has been constantly innovating in the database space.

So when he speaks, a lot of us listen. If you are a database developer or designer, this article on the future of databases may be worth a read. A few snippets:

If we examine the nontrivial-sized DBMS markets, it turns out that current relational DBMSs can be beaten by approximately a factor of 50 in most any market I can think of. What follows are a few examples.

  • In the data warehouse market, a column store beats a row store by approximately a factor of 50 on typical business intelligence queries. The reason….
  • In the online transaction processing (OLTP) market, a lightweight main memory DBMS beats a row store by a factor of 50.
  • In the science DBMS market, users have never liked relational DBMSs and want a non-relational model and query facility.
  • If you are storing Resource Description Framework (RDF) data, which is popular in the bio community and elsewhere, then “Scalable Semantic Web Data Management Using Vertical Partitioning” points out that column stores are very good at certain RDF workloads
  • Text applications have never used relational DBMSs.
  • Even in XML specialized engines beat conventional RDBMS

Stonebraker goes on to explain why RDBMs technologies show signs of age and describes several possible alternatives.


When we first built a relational engine in mid 80s the only resource we had was C.J.Date’s book. After the first iteration, I managed to get hold of a set of papers on relational database mangement system from Michael Stonebraker. We learned a lot from them. So to me Michael Stonebraker is a bit of a hero. In a conference at Hyatt Rickey’s in Palo Alto, I was lucky to meet all my RDB heros – Codd, Date, Michael, Lawrence Row and many others. After that I bumped into Stonebraker once in Illustra (we build an ODBC driver for them). I lost track of Stonebraker after that. I kept hearing about him a bit when I was doing some consulting work on Streaming Database for an XML acceleration company. So when I found this article, in the Semantic Web group in LinkedIn, I was really happy.

This is an area that bears a bit of investigation. Would love to get back and dabble in RDF stores, one of the most promising technologies on the horizon.

2 thoughts on “RDBMS: Tired Software?

  1. The RDBMS may be tired, but it’s never going away. It’s just losing it’s position at the top of the data management pyramid. It is enough of a hassle for today’s organizations to integrate in-house data that resides in a hodge-podge of databases from different vendors. However, the data management landscape is going global. Scalable solutions are needed that permit access, migration, and/or integration on a scale never seen before. With this challenge comes the need to merge disparate data models and replace proprietary data identifiers (think table/column names, etc.) with , repurpose-able, semantically meaningful identifiers that transcend the confines and conventions of one corporation, DBMS, application, and so forth. EAV/CR DBMS models are far superior in their ability to meet these new needs, but even some of the most advanced EAV/CR systems are built atop pre-existing RDBMSs.

    1. @Netrista I agree. As long as you have need for the structured business data (companies, contacts, material, inventory etc.) this is going to stay. The evolution may take place in stages – an RDF layer on multiple databases integrating information and increasing the power to cross query, discovering richer relationships between data. As Jon Udell once said “Data finds data”

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