As one goes deeper down the stack, engineering decisions become ever more conservative — changing the location of a button in a web app is an inconvenience; changing a database engine can radically upend an entire project.
It’s little surprise then that database technologies are among the longest-lasting engineering projects in the modern software developer toolkit. MySQL, which remains one of the most popular database engines in the world, was first released in the mid-1990s, and Oracle Database, launched more than four decades ago, is still widely used in high-performance corporate environments.
Database technology can change the world, but the world in these parts changes very, very slowly. That’s made building a startup in the sector a tough equation: Sales cycles can be painfully slow, even when new features can dramatically expand a developer’s capabilities. Competition is stiff and comes from some of the largest and most entrenched tech companies in the world. Exits have also been few and far between.
That challenge — and opportunity — is what makes studying Cockroach Labs so interesting. The company behind CockroachDB attempts to solve a long-standing problem in large-scale, distributed database architecture: How to make it so that data created in one place on the planet is always available for consumption by applications that are thousands of miles away, immediately and accurately. Making global data always available immediately and accurately might sound like a simple use case, but in reality it’s quite the herculean task. Cockroach Labs’ story is one of an uphill struggle, but one that saw it turn into a next-generation, $2-billion-valued database contender.
The lead writer of this EC-1 is Bob Reselman. Reselman has been writing about the enterprise software market for more than two decades, with a particular emphasis on teaching and educating engineers on technology. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, figures were designed by Bob Reselman and stylized by Bryce Durbin, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.
CockroachDB had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Reselman has no financial ties to CockroachDB or other conflicts of interest to disclose.
The CockroachDB EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,100 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what we’ll be crawling over:
- Part 1: Origin story “CockroachDB, the database that just won’t die” (2,100 words/8 minutes) — Looks at the origins of CockroachDB, from the creation of the popular open-source image editor GIMP to some of Google’s most well-known infrastructure products.
- Part 2: Technical design “How engineers fought the CAP theorem in the global war on latency” (2,400 words/10 minutes) — Analyzes the key differentiation that CockroachDB offers the relational database market, particularly its focus on geography and data storage.
- Part 3: Developer relations and business “‘Developers, as you know, do not like to pay for things‘” (2,200 words/9 minutes) — Explores how CockroachDB engages with developers while also pivoting to the cloud at a key inflection point in its business.
- Part 4: Competitive landscape and future “Scaling CockroachDB in the red ocean of relational databases” (2,400 words/10 minutes) — Evaluates the future of the startup within the extremely competitive landscape of relational databases and what possible exit routes might look like.
We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at [email protected].
By Danny Crichton