NoSQL (Not Only SQL database) definition

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: An architect's guide: How to use big data
Contributor(s): Barney Beal

NoSQL database, also called Not Only SQL, is an approach to data management and database design that's useful for very large sets of distributed data.  

NoSQL, which encompasses a wide range of technologies and architectures, seeks to solve the scalability and big data performance issues that relational databases weren’t designed to address. NoSQL is especially useful when an enterprise needs to access and analyze massive amounts of unstructured data or data that's stored remotely on multiple virtual servers in the cloud.

Contrary to misconceptions caused by its name, NoSQL does not prohibit structured query language (SQL). While it's true that some NoSQL systems are entirely non-relational, others simply avoid selected relational functionality such as fixed table schemas and join operations. For example, instead of using tables, a NoSQL database might organize data into objects, key/value pairs or tuples.

Arguably, the most popular NoSQL database is Apache Cassandra. Cassandra, which was once Facebook’s proprietary database, was released as open source in 2008. Other NoSQL implementations include SimpleDB, Google BigTable, Apache Hadoop, MapReduce, MemcacheDB, and Voldemort. Companies that use NoSQL include NetFlix, LinkedIn and Twitter.

NoSQL is often mentioned in conjunction with other big data tools such as massive parallel processing, columnar-based databases and Database-as-a-Service (DaaS).

See also: virtual database, object-oriented database management system

This was first published in October 2011

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