Canonical Drops CouchDB from Ubuntu One, Couchbase Denies Interest (Updated)

Apache CouchDB logo

Apache CouchDB logo Monday Canonical announced that it will no longer use Apache CouchDB to power the structured data synchronization aspect of its Ubuntu One cloud storage service.

Canonical’s John Rowland Lenton wrote:

For the last three years we have worked with the company behind CouchDB to make it scale in the particular ways we need it to scale in our server environment. Our situation is rather unique, and we were unable to resolve some of the issues we came across. We were thus unable to make CouchDB scale up to the millions of users and databases we have in our datacentres, and furthermore we were unable to make it scale down to be a reasonable load on small client machines.

Canonical will use a custom built solution instead.

James Phillips, senior vice president of products at Couchbase, shrugged off the news. “We’re not the CouchDB company, we will never be the CouchDB company,” he said in an interview today.

Earlier this year Membase acquired CouchOne, the former sponsor company of CouchDB, and formed Couchbase (it was described as a merger in the initial announcement, but Phillips referred to it today as an acquisition, and I’ve heard it described that way by others close to the company). According to Phillips, Couchbase is not focused on developing CouchDB. Instead, the acquisition was meant as a means to bring in CouchOne’s talent pool and to start applying certain elements of CouchDB’s technology (namely replication and mobile/server synchronization technology) to enhance Membase Server (now called Couchbase Server).

Phillips did point out that although from a business perspective Couchbase is not interested in CouchDB, many of Couchbase’s employees remain dedicated to CouchDB.

MongoDB vs. CouchDB

Canonical dropping CouchDB and Couchone’s abandonment of the project are two big blows CouchDB. Earlier this month, a Hacker News user posted a graph showing a decline of search queries for CouchDB on Google accompanied by a steady increase of queries for competing document database MongoDB. Tim Anglade, an employee of Cloudant, which develops a CouchDB-based product called BigCouch, responded:

CouchOne abandoned any sort of marketing effort around CouchDB long before they got acquired by Membase. Since then, they have focused their attention solely on marketing the Couchbase brand, with close to zero time spent evangelizing Apache CouchDB. The other CouchDB “vendor”, Cloudant (who I work for) never had much of a marketing budget, so we spent no time marketing CouchDB either (we focused on building and marketing our own products, open-source BigCouch and hosted Cloudant).

This situation did not catch us by surprise; I flagged this as a potential issue at Cloudant and had conversations about it with the CouchOne guys back in January 2011.

What you see here is just what happens to open-source technologies when nobody spends time evangelizing them — and when maybe, just maybe, they’re not hip enough to get self-sustaining traction. I love CouchDB to pieces and believe it’s an immensely useful tool with great things in its future — but it has long stopped being cool, compared to the MongoDBs and Nodes of this world. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing… Strong communities are not built on shallow attraction.)

So yes, both vendors decided to focus their limited resources on advertising their own products (successfully & deservedly so, I would argue) but I think the success & money that phase brings in will undoubtedly be funneled back into even more evangelizing & involvement in Apache CouchDB. (I’m speaking for Cloudant at least, don’t know what Couchbase’s open-source plans are for Apache CouchDB.)

What Does This Mean for the Future of CouchDB?

CouchDB is an Apache project and will almost certainly continue. Cloudant is still contributing CouchDB and is addressing CouchDB’s scalability issues through the open source BigCouch project. However, the decline in interest, the lack of support from Couchbase and the end of Canonical’s use are all bad signs for the project. That’s a disappointment, because it’s great technology with huge potential (see my interview with J. Chris Anderson for more). CouchDB could rebound from this if the community keeps supporting the project and a few breakthrough uses of the technology emerge.

Update: Cloudant CEO Alan Hoffman says the company is still fully committed to Apache CouchDB.