Revisiting and defending my Tweets from NoSQL Live in Boston

Some people have been confused by my Twitter stream from last week's NoSQL Live in Boston conference.  I've never been very good at staying "on message", or adhering to a set of "talking points".  Some people thought I was there to "defend the status quo", or to defend and promote memcached, or memcached+mysql.

True, I was there in part to teach about and promote memcached, and especially Gear6 Memcached.  I have a great employer, but they are not sending me to conferences because they are a charity.  I taught the memcached  breakout session, and also worked the "hallway track", giving a number of people a crash course in what memcache is and what makes it useful, and handed out a pile of business cards.

As for my tweets and pithy statements... Well, some over-simplification has to happen to reduce a concept to 140 characters

My statement, "NoSQL as cheaper to deploy, manage, and maintain is a myth. it costs just as much, if not more", which I said that into the mike at the start of the scaling panel, was very popular to tweet and retweet.

It's something that is a "Jedi Truth", it's true from a "certain point of view".  When you add together the costs of the much shallower "bench" of hirable operational experience, the increased "minimum useful hardware footprint"  (which seems to be about at least 5 full storage nodes), and the evolving maturity of the client libraries, and such, NoSQL is not going to save you money.  Until an important threshold is reached.  When you scale and/or your data representation "impedance mismatch" hits that nasty inflection point, where the "buck for bang" curve suddenly starts to rise hard, and it looks like you will need to start spending infinite amounts of money to keep growing.  Then the NoSQL approach does become cheaper, because it's actually doable.  And it's probably wise to start considering, researching, and then migrating to NoSQL before you hit that wall.

My statement "people have been wanting DBA-less databases about as long as they have wanted programmer-less programming languages" was also popular.  I stand by it.  NoSQL doesn't crack this nut, nothing ever well.  Some NoSQL solutions look like they are "DBA-less", such as AWS SDB, AWS RDB, FluidDB.  Those systems are not DBA-less, they have DBAs, just that the cost of the DBA is "hidden" in the per-drink rental cost of those systems, instead of sitting on your balance sheet as a salary.

The statement "Twitter is using Cassandra because bursty writes are cheap, compared to others" is something I said not because I knew it, but because I just learned it, and I was a bit surprised by it.  I think that the original statement was by Ryan King of Twitter, who was also on the scaling panel.

My statement "Memcached should be integrated into all NoSQL stores" is something I also firmly believe.  The very-high-performance in-memory distributed key value store is a very useful building block for larger systems, and I think that whatever larger NoSQL systems we end up will use it as a component of their internal implementations.

The statement "being able to drop nodes as important as being able to add, because scalability is pointless w/o reliability" was also by Ryan King.  I tweeted it because it is very much something worth broadcasting and remembering it.  It has a little more context in his next statement "The first day we stood up our #cassandra cluster, 2 nodes had hdd die... Clients never noticed."  Machines fail.  And as they get faster and cheaper, and as clusters get bigger, machine failure must become something that must not be any sort of emergency.

My statement "open source means folks dont need a standards body" was a extreme simplication of part of Sandro Hawke's talk.  I tweeted it because it was something I've felt to be mostly true enough for a long time, and it was nice to see someone else recognize it.  As Sandro stated later in twitter, "I think I added an important "sometimes"!".  And he is correct.  It's not true as an absolute statement.

All in all, NoSQL Live was a very good conference.  I felt that the speakers taught and learned, all the other attendees taught and learned, and the networking and hallway track was first rate.  Thanks to 10gen for organizing it, and being entirely fair to their "competition" in the rapidly growing and evolving NoSQL space.


  1. Next time it would be better to write blog posts than just pass on sound bites -- it means a lot more when you get the whole context of a point, instead of trying to force a point into 140 characters, because you have to perform "extreme simplification" as you say.

    Plus, a blog post is something you can refer back to, over and over. I really lament that most people are using Twitter at conferences instead of liveblogging like we used to (well, for 1-2 years in there). Twitter is NOT the best medium for passing along more than a sound bite.

  2. Also, where did you hear about it? I live in Boston and I didn't hear about the conference until you started tweeting about it (when you were already there).....

    "invite the competition" seems a bit odd in this context...so I'd like to know how you heard about it. I'd love to go next year, but I have to know about it first.