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evolution through a series of accidents

zerosum dirt(nap)

SimpleDB is RESTful & Schema-less?

December 16, 2007 by nap · Comments

So the big web service of the week announcement goes to Amazon, for their AWS SimpleDB hosted service. This should place nicely with EC2, which is an interesting service except for the fact that persistent data across sessions is problematic (every time you boot an EC2 node it’s a clean slate).

So what is SimpleDB? It’s:

  • Built in Erlang (wow, maybe Erlang is worth learning after all, right?)
  • RESTful(see comments); API returns XML
  • Schema-less
  • Non-relational

Wait, what? Schema-less? Non-relational? Yup. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a groundswell of interest in this area lately… Perhaps most buzz-worthy is the CouchDB project, which also uses REST for inserts and queries, storing your data in schema-less databases which Amazon confusingly refers to as “domains” (see other differences). CouchDB is pretty neat, and all the cool kids seem to like it. RDDB has similar goals. And then there’s DBSlayer, which takes the approach of wrapping a REST API around traditional relational databases (MySQL, etc).

So why the interest in moving away from traditional RDBMS, which have served us well for so many years? Simplicity. Ease of scaling. The emphasis on removing business logic from the database and keeping it in the application, where it belongs. At least, those are the arguments. I’m no expert, but I’m certainly interested. Assaf Arkin summarizes the argument much better than I can, and his article Read Consistency: Dumb Databases, Smart Services should be required reading for anyone who’s interested in the future of (dumb) databases on the web. Assaf also has a follow-up article on the merits of CouchDB, specifically. There’s a lot to think about here.

Of course, another key value prop with the Amazon service is that it’s hosted. By Amazon. They claim it’s fast and reliable (they should know a thing or two about that), and it looks to be relatively inexpensive, when you consider that the alternative is clustering your own databases for the same kind of speed and reliability. It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out and I’m anxious to play around with it.

All that said, there’s no Ruby library wrapper for SimpleDB yet. However, as Chad Fowler notes, there are already three different projects registered with RubyForge. None of them have checked in even a single file as of this writing, but you know that somebody out there is hard at work (hint hint), and I’m sure you’ll see it before too long. Alternatively, you can build one yourself.

Me? I’ve already got too much on my plate this week. And I still have to get that DataMapper cheat sheet done, too.

/me apologizes again

/me goes outside to shovel snow

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