The New Database

Five factors driving the database revolution

The technology is confusing but plays a critical role in modern-day life. This is your guide to understanding why investors and entrepreneurs are so excited.

Dashboard of database metrics with charts and graphs

Data runs the world, and databases are changing rapidly as tech evolves.

Credit: Luke Chesser / Unsplash

This story is part of "The New Database," a Protocol special report. Read more here.

Your guide to understanding why investors and entrepreneurs are so excited about the database revolution in five easy steps.

Underpinning the new database wave: easy access to data

It wasn't too long ago that every piece of software would run on premises. It sounds foreign now, but businesses used to buy actual CDs and physically download programs on employee computers. And everything was saved through a connection to the local network. That made it easier for developers to write code for the programs and for databases to support those specific applications. But it was very limiting. Once users were able to begin interacting with websites and mobile was thrown into the mix, suddenly the amount of data flowing through enterprises was astronomical.

But making it truly possible is virtually-unlimited compute

All that data would've overwhelmed the architectures of the past; the technology simply couldn't deliver the speed that customers were expecting. That's why, once the cloud revolution took off, the database industry entered a new phase. It's one that saw AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud, who could offer the flexible storage services to accommodate these dramatic changes in demand, continue to take market share from legacy providers like SAP, Oracle and IBM.

Now, virtually every company wants a piece of the data analytics action

It's no longer ground-breaking to be cloud-first; it's pretty much expected. As more enterprises make the jump, they're suddenly realizing that not only are they constantly gathering troves of data: They're sitting on even more data that was, in some cases, amassed over decades of operations — and they want to use it. That's why database upstarts like Snowflake and Databricks are seeing so much success. Their software helps power the constant updates to corporate dashboards — which can show everything from website activity to the health of machines on the factory floor — and predict demand businesses should expect in the upcoming quarters.

The big cloud vendors aren't standing still in the face of startups

But database products available from Microsoft, AWS, Google Cloud and tons of others are also up to this task, which is why there is so much competition in the market. It's also why there is so much investment: The opportunity is huge, especially when you consider that most large companies would consider themselves in the early stages of adopting AI and machine learning, technologies that require tons of data.

But databases are difficult to understand — especially if you're not in the tech industry

Still, they're vitally important and underpin nearly everything we use in modern life. There's a significant push underway to educate non-technologists on how to work in a data-driven fashion, which means vendors managing the databases have to think about giving even wider access to the information in a secure manner. Companies like Databricks and Dremio, two startups that are pioneering a new storage concept called a "data lakehouse," are challenging the traditional boundaries of what it means to be a database in ways that are likely to have an impact on the future of the industry.

With all this innovation playing out across the industry, along with data explosion inside corporate America, databases will become more and more critical to digital business. So now is a very good time to learn how they can have an impact, and why every company needs to think critically about its data strategy.

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