NoSQL Databases Go Mobile

By Michael Vizard Print this article Print
mobile apps in big data age

One irony in the history of IT is: that which was once old is frequently new again. Take, for example, databases on mobile devices. Once upon a time, it was taken for granted when building a mobile application that there would be a local instance of a relational database running on the device. Applications would then be written to the local database, which provided a layer of software that served to isolate the application from the vagaries of the network.

Then, along came application programming interfaces (API), and the fashion of the day became reading and writing data directly across the Web. Now, IT fashion is getting ready to change again.

As the amount of data that mobile applications need to access continues to increase in the era of big data, it's becoming not all that practical to use APIs to read and write data from the Web. But instead of installing traditional SQL databases on mobile devices, this time, more than likely there will be an instance of a NoSQL database designed to handle more complex types of data than can be efficiently stored in a row format using a relational database. Of course, despite the NoSQL moniker most of these databases will remain SQL-compatible.

Among the vendors leading this latest change in mobile application development is Couchbase, which just announced that 100,000 developers are now participating in the open-source community surrounding the mobile edition of the company's NoSQL database.

Wayne Carter, chief architect of mobile for Couchbase, explained that much like enterprise developers before them, the developers of mobile applications using APIs have learned that the network is often unstable. Couchbase Mobile provides a NoSQL database that enables them to write their applications to a local instance of a database that then communicates with Web APIs.

That approach not only shields the developer from the vagaries of the network, but it also makes it a lot simpler to create mobile applications offline, Carter said. In fact, many enterprise IT organizations are now demanding that mobile applications be able to work offline and online because requiring users always to be connected to the Internet is both impractical and expensive, he added.

The latest release of Couchbase Mobile, Carter said, adds support for change notifications to be sent from a cloud database to mobile applications and provides a glimpse of a ForestDB storage engine that the company plans to embed in Couchbase Mobile. The end result, Carter said, is a more robust platform for mobile applications.

Solution providers building mobile apps would be well-advised to take note of these and other similar types of capabilities. While the API economy is clearly still in vogue, it looks like how those APIs are actually being dressed is about to change.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.

This article was originally published on 2015-06-28