The history of information technology in business has been accompanied by the success and the continued growth of relational databases. Put simply, relational databases made it easy for businesses to store and retrieve information in a tabular structure, writes Barry de Waal, chief executive: strategy and sales at 9th BIT Consulting.
Today, however, the nature of data has changed as well as the amount of data that needs to be processed. Simply look at your mobile device and see the number of pictures, videos and audio files you have, many of which you will already have forgotten about, and one can easily understand the data collection, storage, retrieval and analysis problems that organisations face.
With millions of records of various data types, organisations are challenged as to how they will manage their data more effectively. More importantly, the biggest challenge will be to take stored data, combine it with new, unstructured data and analyse this combination in real time.
This is where NoSQL databases come into play. NoSQL technology has been around for many years, but has only recently been tagged with the name “NoSQL” to differentiate it from traditional relational systems. NoSQL databases are able to scale horizontally, faster than traditional relational systems, providing better availability to administrators. Additionally, their data structures are different, improving the speed with which certain data types are handled. This is known as a document-oriented data model.
“Of course, NoSQL is not the solution for everyone,” explains Barry de Waal, chief executive, sales and strategy at 9th BIT Consulting. “Certain tasks are still best suited to relational systems, but the performance of other functions, especially those using large amounts of unstructured data, is far better on NoSQL systems.”
De Waal adds that NoSQL systems are not “tomorrow’s technology”, they are used in major corporations today with remarkable success. The benefits NoSQL delivers include a flexible data model, improved performance, fast and almost unheard of scalability and availability over dispersed geographic areas. These benefits make it clear that for effective ICT performance in the era of cloud computing, NoSQL is a no brainer.

Real-world use
To understand the capabilities of NoSQL, De Waal refers to some of leading global companies and their use of this technology.
* Personalisation: The Internet should be making every interaction personal, focussed on you and your likes and dislikes. Does this happen often? No. With NoSQL, analysing vast amounts of data about an individual – demographic, contextual, behavioural and so forth – is faster and more reliable because of the elastic scalability of the systems., owned by AOL, is one of the largest ad networks in the world with billions of impression per month and hundreds of millions of visitors. Using NoSQL, visitor profiles are stored and accessed in real time, giving advertisers the ability to deliver more personal and targeted ads.
* Realtime analytics: The ability to extract information from operational data in real time is critical for an agile enterprise — in particular, the ability to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenue by acting on current data immediately. PayPal uses NoSQL to analyse real-time data from its various platforms. This provides it with a real-time analytics engine that keeps an eye on all its transactional activity 24×7.
* Content management: In the age where content is king, organisations need to engage users with rich, informative content. That becomes a problem when you have many virtual properties and a large number of visitors. A Fortune 500 media company with 90+ media outlets replaced Microsoft SQL Server with Couchbase, a NoSQL server, to support new content types, semi- and unstructured, while improving the overall online experience for more than 50-million unique monthly visitors. The company’s publishing tier now delivers a sustained throughput of 50 000 reads and 10 000 writes per second, allowing them to easily keep up with demand.
“These are three simple examples of how NoSQL systems are not only able to handle the demands of the online world, but can do so more effectively than older relational technology,” says De Waal. “The always-on world is extremely demanding and companies that intend to compete will only make do with their existing databases as long as they keep things simple and their user numbers low.
“Alternatively, if you want to provide the best and fastest experience to your users, you need an effective infrastructure supporting you. Specifically, an infrastructure that supports agile development, easy scalability and, above all, performance. In today’s world, NoSQL delivers precisely that and much more.”