Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Jan Lehnardt about CouchOne and their lightweight, mobile database solution: CouchDB.
Dashboard Insight: Can you tell us about the history of CouchOne?
Jan Lehnardt: CouchOne was founded by Chris Anderson, Damien Katz (the creator of open-source document database Apache CouchDB), and myself. The three of us met while working on the open source Apache CouchDB project and quickly decided we should do something together. We offer a lightweight database solution that simplifies the development of web applications and synchronizes data across mobile, desktop and cloud platforms. We also provide support, development toolkits, training and hosting for CouchDB users.
DI: CouchOne is an interesting name, where did it come from?
JL: The CouchOne name comes from our vision to create a lightweight database optimized for native data stores on any mobile device so that developers could write web applications ONE time that scale horizontally and share data and applications across any computing platform or mobile device. The Couch part is an acronym for Cluster Of Unreliable Commodity Hardware.
DI: What makes CouchDB a unique solution?
JL: Aside from making development and growth easier, CouchDB is the only database solution that is optimized for mobile - this is because it handles the up-time and strict battery requirements of mobile really well. CouchDB integrates with Google's Android and Palm's webOS for synchronizing locally stored data. Additionally, CouchDB's replication and sync facilities allow mobile developers to build web or native applications that work even if the Internet connection is slow, intermittent or completely down.
DI: Mobile BI solutions have been of great personal interest to me over the past few years, and this space seems to be growing faster than anything else in the BI world. Where do think mobile technology will take us over the next year?
JL: This boils down to network theory. If you are in the field, you are (by nature of mobile networks) not as well connected as you are compared to your home or work computer. Depending on where you go, you have reduced coverage or no connectivity at all. How are you supposed to access important business data in the cloud or at the office without a network: You can't, you're toast. This is a fundamental flow in any mobile-enabled application, not limited to, but including BI.
Sync allows you to keep important data with you at all times, on all devices you need: laptops, phones, you name it. But that's only half the story; making copies to view offline are easy. With CouchDB, the offline data is real live data, you can modify and rearrange it as you need or as the job requires and CouchDB will take care of things. When you are able to get online again, all the changes propagate to all required places such as: your colleagues, customers and your work computer.
DI: What are the key challenges that companies face when it comes to their data?
JL: The industry wants you to believe that it is Big Data. And I don't want to downplay the emergence of larger and larger sets of data and the technical issues with handling them. It's there and it is real, but thinking big is an attractive fashion (unlike fashion among technologists). So while there is a clear market for Big Data (CouchDB is well suited for it), there is another angle that is often ignored, because it is less sexy.
This often ignored angle is the management of data across multiple teams in distributed working environments. More and more people are working on the go, yet still need access to their data and applications. CouchDB solves the pain point of losing Internet connectivity and not being able to access your data at all times.
DI: How has the management of data changed over the past year and how do you see the future panning out?
JL: It's not just the last year, but over the past, say five years, the early adopters are starting to look for alternatives to traditional relational databases. Previously, they had spent a lot of time abstracting away the pain that would come with them, but now they are re-thinking data storage as a whole. The rest of the industry followed suit, and where developers were focusing on ignoring the database and treating it as a commodity, they now step back and think data-first about how to smartly solve their storage needs since the traditional solutions just won't work anymore. That being said, there is an advantage to not having to worry about the database. You can focus on making better products and that's where the alternative database market still has to play catch-up. This is why we believe it is important to allow developers and users to have a seamless upgrade path from single computers, mobile handsets and even small work groups to large scale server cluster setups. CouchDB paves that path.
DI: Can you give us some examples of how your customers are using your CouchOne platform?
JL: Our largest customer to date is Canonical, the makers of the Ubuntu One cloud service, which supports more than 1.5 million users. They have CouchDB in every Ubuntu install, with desktops writing to local instances of CouchDB and CouchDB in the Ubuntu cloud. Canonical users benefit from the replication and sync capabilities of CouchDB to keep their data and information with them all the time and up to date.
CouchDB is also being used in a unique way by a non profit organization in Zambia focused on improving maternal and child mortality in rural areas of Africa. With limited computer resources, intermittent power, and an unreliable Internet connection, they needed to have a fully off-line system at each of their clinics. CouchDB works great in a fully offline network, and was the perfect solution for this type of extremely limited computing environment. With its two-way replication, CouchDB allows data collected on phones to propagate back to each clinic, allowing for patient’s records to be updated faster. Medical workers also save time by using only mobile phones.
Our growing user base also includes high-profile companies like the BBC, CERN and Mozilla.
DI: What is the process if someone wants to evaluate your solutions?
JL: If someone is interested in CouchDB, they can sign up for their own free CouchOne hosting instance at http://www.couchone.com/get.