NoSQL: Another Big Data Acronym or a Strategic Differentiator?

Cloud, SaaS, Big Data, Fast Data, NoSQL, PaaS…while this economy cannot produce jobs, it can definitely produce jargon at the speed of light.

As a tech-savvy business person who is not an engineer, I’m always trying to figure out how these new technologies and trends help my customers.

So when I had the opportunity to work on a press release announcing ServiceSource as a MongoDB customer, I wanted to understand the value for my market. Even though MongoDB sounds like something you’d see in the X Games, I knew it must be a differentiator for our business.

I went to the MongoDB website and found “MongoDB in a Nutshell.” When I clicked on it, this is what I saw:

MongoDB in a nutshell

"_id" : ObjectId("5081c97c7833857c5588f336"),
        "name" : "mongo",
        "type" : "db",
        "doc_links" : {
                "installation" : "",
                "tutorial"     : "",
                "reference"    : ""
        versions : [
                { "v" : "2.0.0", "released" : ISODate("2011-09-11T16:22:17Z"), "stable" : true },
                { "v" : "2.0.1", "released" : ISODate("2011-10-22T03:06:14Z"), "stable" : true },
                { "v" : "2.1.0", "released" : ISODate("2012-02-03T17:54:14Z"), "stable" : false },
                { "v" : "2.2.0", "released" : ISODate("2012-09-24T17:38:56Z"), "stable" : true },
        "features" : [
        md5 : BinData(5,"nhB9nTcrtoJr2B01QqQZ1g==")


Well…that nutshell does not work for this squirrel!

So I created a cheat sheet to help mere technology mortals understand what every engineer seems to already know about NoSQL databases like MongoDB .

They Say, I Say: The Business Person’s Minimalist Guide to NoSQL

 “NoSQL” describes a new generation of open source databases that are different from the traditional relational database (RDBMS) architecture based on SQL (Structured Query Language).  Examples of NoSQL databases include our choice, MongoDB (from “humongous”), and others such as Cassandra, HBase, Riak, and Redis.

My first question was why we even need this.  Did engineers just want to build something newer and cooler?

Based on the massive level of investment in these new databases, though, there is clearly something more going on.

What, then, does NoSQL give me from a business perspective?  My relatively quick analysis came up with the following two things:

  • Scale:  The energy around NoSQL is largely driven by a need to build arbitrarily large databases using lots of low cost “commodity” servers.  Companies want this to manage the exabytes of information that help them understand their customers, products and the world around them, and traditional RDMSs don’t allow this.
  • Agility and Productivity: Relational databases require strict data structures – this is how they are built.  Often these constraints can make applications run slowly and can make it very difficult to adapt applications to specific customer needs.

The key things that a NoSQL database like MongoDB lets me do for my customers are:

  • Scale up fast as my customers demand.  When a new customer of ours had ten times the data we anticipated, we were able to accommodate them within our existing, scalable infrastructure as a service approach.
  • Give real-time analytics on rapidly changing data so that my customers can make the right business decisions each day.
  • Build applications faster.  These applications can adapt more easily to customer-specific data requirements and to requirements that change over time.

The NoSQL/MongoDB world also has some terms that are helpful to understand.

Here are a few:

Term Engineers Say I Say
Replication A master can perform reads and writes. A slave copies data from the master and can only be used for reads or backup (not writes). The slaves have the ability to select a new master if the current one goes down. Gives my customers real time, uninterrupted access to key data and analysis, even when part of the system goes down.
Sharding Distributes a single logical database system across a cluster of machines. Allows my customers to have consistent and timely access to information even when their data volumes grow beyond the capacity of individual servers.
Schema-less You can create collections without defining the structure, i.e. the fields or the types of their values, of the documents in the collection. You can change the structure of documents simply by adding new fields or deleting existing ones. Documents in a collection need not have an identical set of fields. My customers can get product more quickly since my engineers can more easily adapt our application to our customers’ variable and dynamic requirements

All this hot technology is fun to know about, but in the end, it’s all about how a NoSQL database like MongoDB gives my customers a better product by providing a scalable, agile database.

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Paula Reinman

Paula Reinman specializes in creating business growth through new markets and new products. She brings over 25 years of global experience in B2B and B2C marketing to her position as Senior Vice President of Marketing for ServiceSource. She is responsible for all aspects of corporate, product and solution marketing worldwide.

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  1. You may want to include some NoSQL weaknesses as well (they do exist!) because this reads like a paid endorsement.

  2. Thanks for your comment. My goal for this blog post was to help business people understand the potential customer benefits of the technology and the motivation for its use. NoSQL approaches face many of the same challenges as traditional relational approaches, and they certainly bring new challenges like immature ecosystems and amplified uncertainly from working with new technology.

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