A Deep Dive into Compose's Database as a Service Platform
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Last summer, IBM purchased Compose (originally MongoHQ), which helps developers ship applications with production grade databases. We spoke with Kurt Mackey, original founder of Compose, to learn more about company’s Database as a Service platform.
ADM: Why is it so difficult and time consuming for developers to manage a database?
Mackey: A developer’s time can be a business's most valuable asset, yet the realities of choosing, managing and maintaining a database can prove to be a never-ending drain on this finite resource. A core issue is that most developers are not database experts, meaning they must learn the technology as they go, a process that can slow any implementation.
Even if a given developer is a database expert, their time would be better spent building applications, not running back-end databases.
ADM: How does Compose’s approach to Database as a Service (DBaaS) help solve the problems faced by Database Administrators (DBAs)?
Mackey: The role of the database administrator has evolved significantly in the last five years, and Compose’s mission is to give them the tools to be successful and adapt to the shifting landscape.
In the past, the majority of DBAs were tasked with maintaining a single database. When the need to scale with business needs arose, the task was relatively straight-forward. The issue is that now, modern applications require a variety of databases to support different application features and there is more data available than ever before. With both of these changes comes the need for more specialized databases, and thus, more DBAs.
Our approach to DBaaS embraces the fact that developers need a choice of specialized open source databases to power their applications. This is why we offer a variety of options - so DBAs can quickly select, deploy and scale the right database for the job.
ADM: Who is a typical Compose customer and what does a use-case look like?
Mackey: Our customers are developers and DBAs at growing startups all the way up to large financial institutions. We’ve found that the traditional gatekeepers at organizations of all sizes are going away as more developers are taking it upon themselves to test or even buy new technology, which is one reason our bottom-up sales model has been so well received.
One specific use case is Compose’s work with location-based advertising platform, Roximity. Compose has helped Roximity to manage their database layer so they can focus on their core business - enabling customers like the Brooklyn Nets, Samsung and Ford to improve consumer engagement through beacons.
ADM: How has the trend towards microservices architecture affected the way developers build apps or utilize specialized databases?
Mackey: Microservices are high profile now because they can be more focused on their particular task and use, for example, databases that match that task. Of course that means that developers need to learn and understand a host of new databases to run discrete features of their applications. They aren't locked into using whatever database their IT team managed and are free to pick from the many options out there. When they make good choices, the hard part becomes getting good at running each service in production, but we like to think we made that easier on our platform.
ADM: Can you tell us about your sales “from the bottom up” approach?
Mackey: The bottom-up sales approach has been incredibly successful for other developer-driven companies like Atlassian, Twilio and GitHub, and we've been very successful with it too. Our customers are developers, so we have put an enormous amount of effort into making it easy for any developer to quickly and affordably get started on Compose, then scale to meet their growth needs.
Developers like to tinker with new technology and unlike almost any other part of a business, they have the know-how to figure out the novel IT solutions. With this in mind, we have set a price point that allows developers to buy Compose without the need for corporate sign off so they can test it out on their own.
Another reason for this approach is we’ve found that developers are not particularly fond of sales people. That works to our advantage since the people building Compose are also speaking with customers as part of our sales function, so we are in touch with customer needs and feedback, which allows us to quickly improve our service when needed.
ADM: How is Compose helping IBM to expand its developer footprint?
Mackey: As a company built by and for developers, Compose is helping IBM to expand its developer footprint by giving them the tools they need to solve complex data problems in practical, simple ways. Compose is one of the largest self-service businesses within IBM, allowing us to show other parts of the organization how the direct sales model can translate into better services and happier developers.
ADM: How do you see DBaaS evolving over the next 5 years?
Mackey: Applications have become much easier to manage thanks to the maturation of services focused on developers. I believe we will see the size and scope of applications continue to grow thanks to improved sensors and continued growth in mobile, which in turn will force database technology to keep pace.
As databases mature, developers will need more efficient ways to build and scale databases that are specialized for specific application functions. For DBaaS, this means offering a variety of smaller databases and providing the expertise to help developers understand the benefits and use cases of each.
ADM: How has the role of a developer changed over time?
Mackey: Developers are now tasked with responsibilities that were traditionally in the hands of a DBA. It is simply impractical to think that a good developer can build an application without knowing how data is shaped and queries on that data are built. In many ways, the role of a developer has become more of an intellectual challenge, as they work to understand and build skills to address the operational aspects of what they are building.
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