IBM buying Cloudant? "History says they won't make it work" says MarkLogic's Gary Bloom

By John Leonard
28 Mar 2014 View Comments
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Last month, IBM purchased US database-as-a-service (DBaaS) start-up Cloudant for an undisclosed amount. A couple of weeks later it was Cloudera's turn, announcing a $160m boost to its funds courtesy of a handful of private investors, with an accompanying rumour (that yesterday was confirmed as fact) that Intel was about to throw its considerable weight behind the firm. And this week Hadoop distributor HortonWorks, perhaps Cloudera's closest rival, announced that it is in receipt of funding worth $100m.

So, what's going on? Computing asked Gary Bloom, CEO of NoSQL firm MarkLogic for his take.

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"This tells you the technology in this marketplace has huge value. It's important technology that is getting close to mass adoption," Bloom said.

It may also, of course, say something about IBM. IBM has been moving aggressively into the cloud and big data markets, territories in which many analysts feel the firm has been hitherto rather slow to stake its claim.

In June last year, IBM announced its intention to take the fight to Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and other IaaS players by buying SoftLayer for a reported $2bn and forming a new division to sell cloud services on demand. At the same time, IBM has been "cloud enabling" more of its software stack, making some of its traditional software available as SaaS.

Could the purchase of Cloudant be a canny shortcut for IBM into the DBaaS market, giving it instant capabilities for mobile development, as some analysts have suggested? 

Bloom is disparaging.

"Cloudant is one of five or six NoSQL firms that have been out in the market looking to get acquired," he said. "There's a typical profile of these companies: they earn $3-$5m in revenue and they employ 75 to 85 people.

"[IBM] has bought a very small company. I heard their revenue is only about $10m. It is different to when they bought an established brand like Cognos, which was impossible to ignore. Small companies get lost in the whirlwind. Plus, how are you going to get the DB2 sales guys to go out and say, ‘hey, there's a better solution at the fraction of the price?'"

While Bloom said he "didn't want to second guess what IBM is planning", he said that in organisations of IBM's size such decisions are often made at the lower levels of the organisation.

"Someone, somewhere had a plan. But history says they won't make it work."

Others have pointed out that the whole picture is somewhat confusing. While Cloudant runs on IBM's SoftLayer, it is also supported by AWS, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace - indeed, Rackspace is a partner of Cloudant. Plus IBM is also working with another NoSQL database, MongoDB, which it had previously said would form the basis for next-generation web and mobile applications. So perhaps Big Blue is just hedging its bets.

"There's nothing unusual about having a NoSQL database that runs in the cloud," said Bloom, pointing out that MarkLogic is also available as a cloud service on AWS.

Bloom is equally dismissive of some of the other NoSQL players currently in the news, questioning their business models and market valuations.

"They are raising phenomenal amounts of money, which means they are spending a phenomenal amount of money. Both Cloudera and MongoDB each raised over $50m less than a year before they did their $100m-plus raise. It's a question of what do you do with all that money? Unless they're taking the money from the bankers and turning it into business for customers then it's not a business model.

"What generates big news is the amount of money someone's raising. But what that really says is 'we're spending a lot of money, and we're giving up a lot of ownership of the company'. It's not good for the employees and it's not a measure of whether you're a great company or not."

He also questioned whether the open-source NoSQL players like MongoDB, which have become firm favourites with developers, can make the leap to heavy-duty enterprise use cases.

"MongoDB has been a great lead generation engine for us, because it's helped people understand why they need a different kind of database. You can get productive on it really quickly, but it lacks the enterprise features for them to run their businesses on."

Bloom claimed that as a more established player the MarkLogic integrated solution has had enterprise-level security and ACID transactional capability built in from the start and that others will struggle to emulate this. He also said the firm's more traditional enterprise-focused business model had proved itself in terms of revenues.

"MarkLogic makes more revenue than all the other NoSQL players combined," he said. "While the others are working on getting enterprise capability we've moved ahead with tiered storage, semantic search and elastic cloud capabilities."

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