Old tech with a shiny new wrapper

It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun, that the latest tech craze is really an old idea given new life. I have lost count how many times I have heard people say this about NoSQL and NewSQL database systems over the past 3 years:

“Key-value stores are just the latest attempt at XML databases”

“hierarchical databases have been around since IBM introduced them in the 1960s”

And then there is the often cited objection to NoSQL that I just love:

“eventual consistency is completely unacceptable to our business case. We use SQL Server with [merge replication / always on + readable secondaries / log shipping + readable secondaries]”. Hahaha.

To be clear, I am not arguing against these statements (except the last one, which sounds suspiciously like a form of eventual consistency to me). Undoubtedly, NoSQL / NewSQL / Hadoop, offer new and innovative takes on problems that have plagued the data industry for years. To me, the ‘new’ perspective is in how they are used to solve business problems and represent novel perspectives on problems, how we as users interface with them and the inherently distributed nature of these technologies.

So what do people really mean when they say that NoSQL etc. are nothing new? And more to the point, how do we react when this is the first comment made on any discussion on the subject? What motivates people to take this view, is it:

  • a genuine perspective and deep insight into the various technologies?
  • a lack of familiarity with these various technologies, and perhaps a unwavering loyalty to their favourite tech?
  • a generalisation? And therefore perhaps a leading statement to a greater discussion?
  • or more cynically, is it an effort to appear ‘relevant’ and ‘knowledgeable’ in a dynamic and rapidly changing data market?

If Michael Stonebreaker (Prof. at MIT and instrumental in the development of Ingres, Postgres, Vertica, VoltDB…) is helping to drive the bandwagon, there has to be something in these new database offerings right? Or perhaps we should be cynical of Stonebreaker’s often polarising arguments? (just kidding – big big fan).

I would be interested to hear what other people have to say on this topic. How often do you hear the ‘nothing new under the sun’ argument and do you agree?

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