Databases are supposed to be the last thing an enterprise considers changing, but the cloud is upending all that, for several reasons.

Image: Gartner via Adam Ronthal (@aronthal) on Twitter.
Image: Gartner via Adam Ronthal (@aronthal) on Twitter.

We’ve come up with all sorts of mostly silly ways to talk about the importance of data (it’s the new oil, etc.), but perhaps the easiest way to gauge how we think about data is to see how much we spend on it. Or, even better, how much that spending has changed over time. For example, Gartner estimates that enterprises spent $38.6 billion on database management systems in 2017. Today? It’s just shy of $80 billion, representing “unprecedented” growth, according to Gartner analyst Merv Adrian.

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The truth, however, is that data didn’t magically become more important. It has always been important. Instead, data became cloudier. Why does that matter?

Ever cloudier data

As impressive as database growth is, “The biggest [database] market story continues to be the enormous impact of revenue shifting to the cloud,” Adrian wrote. Cloud databases now churn out $39.2 billion in revenue, or more than 49% of all database revenue.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that seems to have significant staying power.

Perhaps the easiest way to visualize that assertion is by looking at Gartner’s “DBMS spaghetti.” Not to be confused with the Gartner Hype Cycle, “DBMS spaghetti” (see above image) is simply the familiar term given to Gartner’s visualization of database rankings over time. Keeping in mind that all pure-play cloud database vendors are in light blue on Gartner’s visualization, posted by Gartner analyst Adam Ronthal, it’s easy to pick out the consistent rise in cloud databases since 2012, when AWS launched DynamoDB.

Up and to the right, as they say.

Back in 2016 I wrote, “[C]loud databases are on an absolute tear, with AWS, Microsoft, and Google all set to benefit from this shift in enterprise spending” from on-premises infrastructure to cloud. If anything, this has only accelerated. Why? Because cloud databases move data closer to the consumers and creators of data, even as they make it much easier to scale the underlying infrastructure necessary to power them. Throw in a dramatic increase in ease-of-management and you have a perfect trifecta that favors cloud database adoption.

Not everyone is benefiting. As Gartner’s Adrian noted, Oracle has fallen one spot in each of the previous consecutive years, and now sits in third place for overall database revenue behind Microsoft (No. 1) and AWS (a very close No. 2, behind Microsoft by a mere $65 million). Google, for its part, nearly tripled the overall market growth rate, displacing IBM and SAP to land as the fourth-largest database provider.

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The cloud, in short, is changing everything. Some incumbent vendors, like Microsoft, have managed the transition to cloud well. Other incumbents…haven’t. Normally changes like this play out over decades, as I’ve recently detailed. The cloud, however, is compressing dramatic change into a single decade.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB but the views expressed herein are mine.