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Are object databases “NoSQL” technologies?

by Roberto V. Zicari on November 24, 2009

This time, I wanted to ask the opinion of an ODBMS vendor on the topic of “NoSQL databases”. I therefore asked Robert Charles Greene, V.P. Open Source Operations, at Versant Corporation.

RVZ: Robert, you represent an ODBMS vendor, what is your opinion of the so called “NoSQL databases”? Are object databases “NoSQL” technologies?

Robert Charles Greene:
I find that lots of folks are getting all worked up over the dubbed “No SQL” movement. I guess it`s because one can easily make assumptions and draw a would be obvious analogy to a “No Relational” movement and that would certainly be something to get worked up over.

As the object database guy, I see the core message being conveyed as, “one size does not fit all” when it comes to data management. That`s a far cry from abandoning the SQL approach to data management and in my mind leaves little to defend, though some seem to feel threatened enough by the catch phrase to sound the alarm.

In some sense, this notion that “one size does not fit all” is an important change in attitude, because for many years one size fits all was prevalent. Only as the internet gave way to the masses and large scale concurrency and data generation ushered in a new era has the relational way of doing data management truly begun to break down, opening the door to alternatives.

The “right tool for the job” has once again become a mantra of the software development community and equally important, the mantra of the decision makers in Enterprise I.T. As evidence, one has to look no further than the proliferation of data warehousing solutions outside the realm of relational database technology, ironically, to support the adhoc query and analytics, the founding pillars of the past which brought the relational database to such high esteem. Indeed, necessity may well be the mother of invention, for if not, it would most certainly be the father of adoption. So, if the RDB is no longer the king of query, then really, what is there to get all worked up about if necessity drives adoption in yet even more directions.

So, what is this NoSQL movement all about and does it warrant the public espousal of opinions. Well, as stated above, this is an important change in attitude which will bring valuable choices to our industry making us better equipped to deal with today`s infrastructure challenges, so yes, indeed it is worth discussion.

Michael Stonebreaker decided it was important to comment on this “movement” and gave an interesting NoSQL perspective here (courtesy of ACM).

I largely agree with the technical elements of his perspective, though I would suggest as in the above, the slightly different perspective that the core message is, “one size does not fit all”. I encourage the reader to then keep this in mind as they engage in a broader understanding of what these exciting new technologies provide.

Also, it is worth pointing out, while many of the technologies involved in the NoSQL movement do sacrifice ACID as a means to achieve their end in both performance and scalability, most object databases are ACID compliant and one might argue are the original NoSQL movement.

But lets not digress, as even Michal asserts, the NoSQL movement is not about SQL. So, while object databases are by and large “NoSQL” technologies, they are not a kind of Query-less technology. Indeed, while today`s modern object databases embrace the requirement for distributed parallel query processing, they also hold true to the core tenants of large scale distribution, object clustering and parallel processing all in the context of an ACID compliant transaction. These features surround a robust environment for dealing with arbitrarily complex object models, an area in which many of the NoSQL movement participants fall short.

In summary, the “one size does not fit all” change in attitude is healthy and beneficial for all.
To that end, the object database, a continuing NoSQL movement participant, is one more tool in the developers tool chest, enabling successful implementation of complex software systems of scale.


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5 Comments Leave one →
  1. Good appraisement. It might be indeed valid to argue that object databases are some kind of a bridge between the rational world and the NoSQL world. As Robert said not sacrificing ACID by keeping full query power on massively huge data.

    By the way the community has somehow agreed that NoSQL should be better translated with "Not Only SQL".

    Stefan Edlich

  2. One size does not fit all is a critical concept which a lot of "IT professionals" seem to forget from time to time. There will never be one database technology, nor has there ever been only one, nor one way to query, nor even one SQL.

  3. Hi Roberto,
    As a former Object Design (ObjectStore) employee, I'm glad to see ODBMS interest is alive and well!

    If you go back in time a little further, you'll see that Mike Stonebraker also published a paper on the end of one-size-fits-all databases.

    He didn't mention ODBMS, but did mention object-relational as an alternative to "OSFA."

    Since the OSFA paper, he's launched several new DBMSs that are specialized for each of the workloads outlined in his paper. The most recent is a SQL DBMS with ACID transaction support. VoltDB ( is relational, not object, and has a very innovative DBMS architecture. As of January 2010, VoltDB is still in pre-release.

    I agree that the NoSQL movement should think about a new name. Renaming it could strengthen the cause by making it possible for SQL databases with specialized architectures (such as ODBMS, column DBMS, and DBMS like VoltDB) to get behind the movement.


  4. Hi Andy
    thank you for your note.
    I know Mike Stonebraker`paper on the end of one-size-fits-all databases.
    You can follow the various posts around this topic here:

    Could you please send me some more technical information on VoltDB?


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