Couchbase unveils first NoSQL database for mobile

By John Leonard
13 Sep 2013 View Comments
mixed mobiles

Couchbase, the company behind the open-source NoSQL database of the same name, is releasing a "lite" version for mobile devices. This, the company claims, will bring all the advantages of the NoSQL architecture such as rapid development, scalability and a flexible schema-less data format to tablets and smartphones for the first time.

Couchbase Lite is a mobile JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) database that will be officially released in the first quarter of 2014. It will run natively under both the iOS and Android operating systems, and on Windows Mobile via HTML5. It will synchronise with data held in a public or private cloud.

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Couchbase CEO Bob Weiderhold explained the lack of a native Windows release.

"We haven't ruled out doing something for Windows, but with their small market share at the moment it made more sense to concentrate on iOS and Android," he told Computing.

Senior vice president of products Rahim Yaseen said that the company is looking to take advantage of two intersecting trends.

"First, mobile devices are getting much more powerful - quad cores, eight cores, lots of storage," he said. "And second, the data that people are wanting to store is getting much richer. By definition that richer data is not very suitable for storing in a relational database."

The proliferation of powerful mobile devices and the fact that users have more than one device is spawning a new generation of cross-platform data-intensive apps that allow large numbers of users to collaborate, enterprises to interact with customers in a more targeted way, and sensor data such as medical information to be processed and analysed, all across multiple devices. The nature of these new apps and the data they use, said Yaseen, often makes document-oriented NoSQL a more suitable choice than existing relational databases such as SQLite.

Having the database on the device itself makes data-intensive applications more efficient and responsive than if they constantly have to connect to a remote source. It also means that such apps can be used when offline. Plus, users don't want to download fresh data every time they want to do their work or play their games; it is better if it can be maintained locally where it is needed and updated in the background.

This, said Yaseen, is the difficult part: synchronising the data across all the various devices, so that changes can be propagated to all machines - potentially millions of them - without conflict. It is an area in which he believes his company has a head start.

"The cloud provides the means of exchange and sharing. Users are going to synchronise to the cloud. The Couchbase Sync Gateway provides a seamless synchronisation between the device and the database server. It uses the same synch and replication technology that we already use between the nodes of a cluster, it's the same protocol," Yaseen said.

As well as being extremely scalable, claimed Yaseen, the share-nothing "JSON Anywhere" architecture deployed by Couchbase also saves significant development time as coders don't need to worry about the platform coding and synchronisation.

In tandem with the release of Couchbase Lite, the company is releasing a cloud database-as-a-service (DaaS) offering to mobile developers that has the Sync Gateway already incorporated, providing them with the ability to test multi-user and multi-device software without having to set up a database server for themselves. The firm is partnering with mobile app development platforms such as Apcellerator and PhoneGap to this end.

Couchbase Lite may still be in beta, but US online education portal Infinite Campus has already developed and is currently testing an app based on the open-source project that will allow it to synchronise lessons to thousands of students' mobile devices by updating a single master. Students will also be take tests on their tablets and submit their answers to their teachers.

Weiderhold believes that the arrival of NoSQL on mobile devices will spark a host of new apps and use cases for business.

"At the moment developers are using a relational model because that's the only way they can get a mobile database," he said. "It's not like having a mobile database is something that's new. What's new is now you can do it in NoSQL and there are a ton of developers that prefer NoSQL because of the flexible data model and scalability, and in the enterprise there are a huge number of potential applications."

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