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Cockroach Labs nabs $160M to grow distributed SQL database

Cockroach Labs is looking to advance its CockroachDB database platform in 2021 with $160 million in new funding that it will use to help expand features and market reach.

Big money continues to flow into the data market in the early days of 2021, with distributed SQL database vendor Cockroach Labs raising a $160 million Series E on Jan. 12.

The Cockroach Labs funding follows other data management vendors that have raised new money in the early weeks of the new year, including Dremio, which raised $135 million, and Starburst, which raised $100 million.

CockroachDB is a distributed SQL database that is well-suited for cloud-native deployments.

Total funding to date for the New York City-based vendor now stands at $355 million, leaving the company with a market valuation of about $2 billion.

The Series E round was led by Altimeter Capital with participation from Greenoaks Capital, Lone Pine Capital, Benchmark, Bond, FirstMark Capital, GV, Index Ventures and Tiger Global Management. The new funding is the second major funding round for the vendor in less than a year and follows Cockroach Lab's Series D round in May 2020 that brought in $86.6 million and was released alongside the Cockroach 20.1 update.

Cockroach in its own niche

In terms of how Cockroach fits into the database landscape, Gigaom senior analyst Andrew Brust said he sees the vendor as occupying its own niche.

"It's a relational, operational database, rather than one purposed for analytics, and it's truly cloud-native and serverless, yet provided by an independent vendor, rather than a public cloud provider," Brust said of CockroachDB. "The success of cloud data warehouses and data lake platforms, as well as operational databases from the cloud providers and non-relational independent platforms, certainly proves out the efficacy of its approach."

"But the combination of characteristics it has makes it somewhat unique, especially among companies with the level of funding it now has," he added.

An opportunistic funding window

Spencer Kimball, CEO and co-founder of Cockroach Labs, explained that part of the reason the vendor raised new money was to further improve CockroachDB so that when developers look for a database to build an application, they turn to Cockroach.

Spencer KimballSpencer Kimball

That's not necessarily so now, Kimball acknowledged, as CockroachDB deployment typically requires multiple nodes, which can involve complexity and cost. The vendor's goal with the new funding is to further build out the technology to make it easier for any type of developer to build and deploy applications with CockroachDB.

We've got a lot of money, so we definitely did not need to raise now. This is opportunistic, fundamentally.
Spencer KimballCo-founder and CEO of Cockroach Labs

Kimball emphasized that he didn't go out looking for more money, but rather was approached by investors, some of whom might have been inspired by the success of the Snowflake IPO in 2020.

"We've got a lot of money, so we definitely did not need to raise now. This is opportunistic, fundamentally," Kimball said.

As to why Snowflake has been so attractive, in Kimball's view it's because data management software is "sticky"' and something that users generally stay with for long periods of time. He sees relational databases such as CockroachDB in the same light.

"I think fundamentally investors look at Cockroach, which represents the sort of next generation of the largest market in software, which is relational databases, and they see that same potential," Kimball said.

Looking toward the CockroachDB update

The last major update for CockroachDB was the 20.2 update which came out in November 2020, integrating new geospatial data capabilities.

Development is currently underway for the CockroachDB 21.1 update later this year, which will introduce new serverless capabilities that help to scale and manage a distributed SQL database deployment. A key part of the update will be enhanced geo-partitioning that will provide an easier path to partitioning data globally than is currently available in CockroachDB.

"Right now, geo-partitioning is extraordinarily powerful and it's already in use by many of our customers but it's very easy, though, to shoot yourself in the foot," Kimball said. "So we have an initiative called 'make global easy' and it's really about making it so that the complexity of using geo-partitioning is about equal to the complexity for a developer of using an index in a relational schema."

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