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MongoDB buys Realm database to boost mobile chops

MongoDB is buying Realm, the maker of an open source database for cross-platform mobile applications, to boost its Atlas cloud platform and Stitch backend as a service.

MongoDB has acquired open source database vendor Realm to boost its capabilities in an increasingly mobile computing landscape.

The Realm database is positioned as offline-first, meaning it is ideal for mobile applications that need to run when no data connection is available. It's an alternative to common mobile databases, such as SQLite, and supports Java, Swift, Objective-C, .NET and JavaScript -- a lineup that covers the overwhelming majority of mobile applications.

The acquisition underscores that mobile is increasingly the de facto mode of interaction for users and applications, said Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif.

"Light-footprint mobile databases will help deliver consistent performance and reliable sync for disconnected use or times when connections are inconsistent and unreliable," he said.

The Realm database is embedded in applications on mobile devices. It is used by more than 100,000 developers and has been downloaded 2 billion times.

Realm also offers an edge-to-cloud data synchronization platform and a developer toolkit. It licenses the platform under a number of tiers for both cloud and on-premises deployments, and it offers support subscriptions for the database and tools. The company has 350 paying customers, including Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Netflix.

MongoDB's acquisition of Realm gives the open source company more mobile database capabilities and access to thousands of mobile developers.
The addition of Realm's mobile database capabilities builds on a series of enterprise-friendly updates MongoDB made last year.

MongoDB's mobile database strategy

MongoDB will invest in Realm's technology while integrating it with its open source databases, the company said. It will provide more details in June at the MongoDB World conference in New York. The $39 million cash purchase is expected to close within the next few months.

We will not introduce backwards-breaking changes.
Eliot HorowitzCTO of MongoDB

That modest acquisition price suggests Realm, which was founded in 2011 and has offices in San Francisco and Copenhagen, Denmark, had difficulty generating much revenue from its paid services.

Still, its capabilities fit well alongside MongoDB's NoSQL Atlas cloud database and Stitch serverless back-end platform, according to MongoDB. While MongoDB rolled out a stripped-down version of its database for mobile devices in June 2018, buying Realm gives it more purpose-built mobile database capabilities and a substantial user base at a relative bargain.

Fear of what's next is a common reaction among users when an open source software company gets acquired. MongoDB addressed those potential concerns.

"We will not introduce backwards-breaking changes," MongoDB CTO Eliot Horowitz said in a blog post. "Developers should keep the experience they love, and gain (optional) new ways to easily work with data."

Because data gathering and data communication both grow in volume based on advances in chip technology, these proportions do not tend to change drastically, said Curt Monash, founder of Monash Research in Acton, Mass. The need to manage data on edge devices stays fairly constant over time, he said.

"Much of the most valuable data can be managed on servers," he said. "Much of what cannot is in files that you don't need fancy data management for. Some data fits in neither category, which is why technology to manage such data is a niche category -- but an important one."

As for MongoDB's integration plans for the Realm database, users can expect the products to essentially remain separate.

"The number of cases of separate DBMS [database management systems] being tightly and successfully integrated into a single product is approximately zero," Monash said. "Many different decisions and optimizations in DBMS design depend on each other. So, different DBMSes are truly different."

What's more likely is MongoDB will enable the systems to exchange JSON and BSON documents and work on a common security layer for the products, to name two examples, Monash said. You can also expect the databases' management and development tools to coexist amiably.

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