IT Life: How Databases Will Change The World
Open source databases that meet business challenges will produce great changes, says Patrik Saller
Patrik Saller is CEO of SkySQL, a company founded in 2010 by the original creators of the leading open source database MySQL. As well as supporting MySQL, the company has developed its own open source database, MariaDB, which is avilalable on all Linux distributions and is used by Internet players such as Google and Wikipedia. SkySQL’s customers include HP, IBM, Google and Deutsche Telekom.
Changing the hotel market
What is your favourite project so far?
Our database work with Booking.com is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with.. The company has fundamentally changed the hotel room reservation market, in a similar manner to how Uber has disrupted the taxi hire market. Our ongoing work with the Booking.com team has allowed us to extend the performance of MySQL and MariaDB, enabling the company to efficiently serve hundreds of millions of users worldwide and at any time.
What were you doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was director of insight and foresight at Nokia [Don't laugh, readers. In 2004 there was no iPhone or Android. In that year Nokia bought out Psion to become majority owner of Symbian and its Series 60 machines ruled the smartphone world - Editor].
I was leading cross-functional teams of technologists, user experience designers and business strategists to map industry trends and pilot new business opportunities for Nokia. It was exhilarating to work together with company executives and leading global experts on revolutionary new concepts based on mobile technology at a time when mobile devices were regarded as the next great disruptor.
Making intuitive services
What will tech be like in ten years’ time?
I hesitate to throw my lot in with those who say that data will be the oil of the twenty-first century. There’s a lot you can do with data, but you can’t actually run an engine on it, or roof a house with it, or turn it into a pair of running shoes. We are, however, only scratching the surface of what we can do with data. We’re very quickly learning how to store, manage, access and manipulate it much better than we could do previously – and the strides we’ve made recently have been interesting.
In ten years time, I think we’ll see services and tools for both businesses and consumers which are so easy and intuitive to use that we’ll be considerably more productive at work, and be able to make much better use of our leisure time at home. Better databases are at the foundation of that change, and which is why I’m so excited to be part of the work going on at SkySQL.
Who is your tech hero?
Elon Musk for creating the Tesla Model S – it’s just an amazingly disruptive automobile in so many ways! Everything Musk touches seems to turn into technology gold dust and if he does build his Hyperloop concept, it will be an innovation to rival the great revolutionary steam trains of the 19th century.
Who is your tech villain?
Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy has to be my favourite villain of all time. I spend a lot of my working life worrying about how to eliminate glitches and bugs from a system, those films resonate with me quite deeply!
Beautiful, beautiful Psion…
What is your favourite piece of tech kit ever?
The Psion Series 5 organiser. I wrote a 100 page Master’s dissertation on it! Just an amazing piece of technology that was so much ahead of its time.
Company finances: is it flat, growing?
SkySQL has recently taken a new round of funding, and the response to our latest MariaDB 10.0 product has been phenomenally positive. As data management becomes a hot topic in boardrooms worldwide, we’re seeing successful companies pay more and more attention to how they store and access their data. Although we can’t reveal any precise financial details, I can tell you that the company is growing strongly.
Which company (apart from your own) do you admire most?
Google – having transformed the way we all use the Internet, the company continues to come up with amazing new concepts, and then turns them into successful businesses. Wherever you look today, Google has a link to what we are doing, both online and off. As a real car fan, I’m excited by the latest announcement about Google’s self-driving car, as it has to potential to save the public on taxi fares and also has the capability to save lives.
Getting real on open source
What is the reatest challenge facing IT departments today?
We are starting to see a shift towards greater use of open-source technology within the largest enterprise organisations. The UK public sector has been especially vocal in promoting the use of open data, open source technology and digital services like the G-cloud. However, while open-source is usually an economical choice (particularly in the longer term), it’s important to remember that not all open-source technologies are created equal – to get the benefits of flexibility and economy, it’s important to have access to the right skills to evaluate and adapt a specific technology for the circumstances at hand.
As recent revelations have shown, security is a big challenge for open-source, but commercial databases and technology face the same issues. The open-source community is well-placed to address these issues, by continuing the long tradition of collaborative innovation that has resulted in such technologies as MySQL and Linux, and remaining transparent over bug fixes and vulnerabilities. Such openness will make it easier for IT departments to choose the right balance of innovation, security and cost, but IT professionals themselves must make sure that they have access to the right expertise, in order to fully exploit the benefits of open-source technologies.
To cloud or not to cloud?
In the world of databases, cloud is currently a very hot topic, with an ongoing debate around whether unstructured NoSQL databases are more suitable for use in the cloud than traditional structured SQL databases.
There are good arguments on both sides, but the truth is that both NoSQL and SQL will have a very important part to play in the enterprise of the future – just as both cloud computing and on-premise technology will both continue to be of great importance in years to come. No technology is a panacea, and the value of any new innovation is limited if it cannot take advantage of the best elements of existing technology.
In my view, the key to success for any technology in IT is to make sure that it is easily interoperable with other technologies in use in the enterprise. We’ve put a lot of work in to making sure that our product can easily interoperate with other databases, and I think that the critical consideration for those working with the cloud is to make sure that anything built there can interoperate easily with the rest of the IT estate – if that is not the case, then a lot of value can be lost.
What did you want to do when he was young?
Until the age of 12, I wanted to be an architect, mainly because I was busy playing Dungeons & Dragons, where I loved designing castles and dungeons. Later on, I realized drawing wasn’t a strength of mine, so I studied engineering instead.