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Columnar RDBMS, Gourmet Fast Food and Santa Claus

Believe it or not, this title makes sense!

Boris Evelson of Forrester recently published a blog post titled It's The Dawning Of The Age Of BI DBMS (Database Management System). I took note that in this post he classified Vertica, ParAccel and Sybase IQ in a category he named ‘Columnar RDBMS (Relational DBMS)’, and that started off a friendly email exchange as to what the heck that really means.

Business Intelligence Software

I said: “RDBMS is tabular, by definition.”

...and Boris said: “To me if I can access something via SQL, it’s relational.”

Who’s right is a matter of perspective, I suppose. But technically, defining RDBMS by the existence of SQL access is incorrect. According to Wikipedia, the short definition of an RDBMS is a DBMS (Database Management System) in which data is stored in tables and the relationships among the data are also stored in tables. The data can be accessed or reassembled in many different ways without having to change the table forms.

Note that the word 'table' appears three times in the short definition of the term. SQL does not appear anywhere in the definition.

What's worse, columnar databases do not store data in tables - again, by definition. So, come to think of it, how can such a thing as a Columnar RDBMS even exist? (get the title yet?)

I suppose that the only thing Columnar RDBMS could technically describe is a database system that stores data in a column-oriented manner, yet still relies on the fundamental mechanisms of an RDBMS (tables, SQL, indexing, etc). In practicality, this means that each field is stored in its own table, with an additional field for correlation. But that is a side-ways implementation technique that is mainly practical for somewhat extending the lifetime of existing software assets that are reaching their scalability limits, and hardly deserves its own DBMS category.

I know we wouldn't describe ElastiCube as being an RDBMS (even though it supports SQL access) and I'm pretty sure Vertica wouldn't describe their technology as an RDBMS either.

The similarities between ElastiCube, Vertica and RDBMS are sufficiently described within the 4 letters D-B-M-S. The letter R is what differentiates between them.

SiSense refers to ElastiCube as a Columnar DBMS or Column-oriented DBMS and I think this describes Vertica equally well. These two database are not similar in the way they work internally, but neither are SQL Server and Oracle - which are still both RDBMS.

* Published on The ElastiCube Chronicles - Business Intelligence Blog

More Stories By Elad Israeli

Elad Israeli is co-founder of business intelligence software company, SiSense. SiSense has developed Prism, a next-generation business intelligence platform based on its own, unique ElastiCube BI technology. Elad is responsible for driving the vision and strategy of SiSense’s unique BI products. Before co-founding SiSense, Elad served as a Product Manager at global IT services firm Ness Technologies (NASDAQ: NSTC). Previously, Elad was a Product Manager at Anysoft and, before that, he co-founded and led technology development at BiSense, a BI technology company.