A Gmail for databases: CockroachDB aims for the top, stocks up with $86.6M new funding

Stay-at-home means more remote work and more online business globally. Global business online means a global database makes more sense, and Cockroach DB is making a play for a bigger piece of a growing pie

CockroachDB is an open-source database that is resilient, supports automatic geo-scaling on-premise and in the cloud, and SQL. It has also shown strong growth for the last couple of years. Its next challenge, as ZDNet's own Tony Baer noted on the occasion of its funding round last year, was making the case that its platform is not just for the elite usual suspects.

Baer went on to add that's where the cloud may play a key role. Fast forward to today, and that plan seems to have been rapidly accelerated. Cockroach Labs, the company behind CockroachDB, today announced $86.6 million in series D funding co-led by Altimeter Capital and BOND with participation from Benchmark, GV, Index Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Tiger Capital.

ZDNet connected with Cockroach Labs CEO Spencer Kimball, to discuss the details of the deal, and Cockroach Labs' plans.

A longer runway

Today's round brings Cockroach Labs' total funding to $195 million. That's quite a lot for a company founded in 2015, and focused heavily on engineering, as we documented in February 2019. There's a couple of other things that stand out about today's funding round, too.

First, it's less than a year since Cockroach Labs scored $55 million in Series C funding. Second, today's Series D is not only hefty, but also backed by an array of Venture Capitals. Kimball noted that they have been in touch with even more VCs, most of which proactively reached out to Cockroach Labs.

This looks like a big vote of confidence in Cockroach Labs' prospects. It also looks like Cockroach Labs is making a play for a bigger piece of a growing pie. As Kimball noted, the database market is already worth north of $60 Billion, and it's expected to grow almost $7 billion in the next couple of years.

A good part of it, Kimball went on to add, is taken up by incumbents potentially losing market share. For Cockroach Labs, this is about more than securing a long enough runway - 4 to 5 years, as a rough estimate. This is about aiming for a substantial share of this market.

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Cockroach Labs has secured a longer runway, and is ready for takeoff in the cloud database scene

Jumpstory

Cockroach Labs notes that worldwide stay-at-home orders have dramatically increased demand for many businesses, putting increasing stress on the modern tech stack. Economic uncertainty is encouraging greater efficiency, setting the stage for further migration away from legacy, closed-source data platforms to modern, distributed, cloud-native tools.

It makes sense to put things into perspective against today's backdrop. Kimball emphasized, however, that the funding round was well under way before all this. Kevin Wang, partner at Altimeter Capital, one of the VCs co-leading the funding round, notes:

"Legacy players have long dominated the enterprise software market. With recent investments in companies like Confluent, Snowflake, and now Cockroach Labs, we're seeing huge market disruption as enterprises move to the cloud and build on a modern tech stack, replacing legacy companies, who are struggling to adapt. Cockroach Labs is leading this next evolution with a world-class team, ambitious vision, and a transformative product. It's a great time to be in the cloud business."

Cockroach Labs culture

Last time we spoke to Kimball, we perceived Cockroach Labs as an engineering-first company. The previous funding round was invested in hiring new talent, doubling headcount over the past twelve months. The culture does not seem to have changed very much, however, and Cockroach Labs still emphasizes research and development.

One of the topics we discussed previously was positioning CockroachDB as an HTAP solution, i.e. one that can serve both transactional and analytical workloads. Following up, it seems like there is some progreess on that front. It also seems like it's all about priorities, and it looks like Cockroach Labs have theirs set straight.

Kimball said that going forward there will be some analytical capabilities for CockroachDB, while highlighting work on things like an optimizing query planner or vectorization. While these may sound cryptic, they're actually a big deal for a database that wants to displace incumbents.

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Being resilient is where CockroachDB got its name from. But there's more in this database that's interesting besides the name.

Vectorization is a technique used to improve the performance of a database for analytical queries. Essentially, as Kimball said, they have used vectorization to enable CockroachDB to process data in a columnar format. This is known to work well for analytical workloads, and Kimball claimed they have seen increased performance of up to 300% in benchmarks used for such workloads, such as TPC-H.

Query planners are typical components for databases like Oracle or SQL Server. They are essential for performance, as their job is to make sure queries are executed in the most efficient way. Query planners are quite complex, and as Kimball noted, they are even more complex for a globally distributed database. So there is considerable effort that has gone into that, too.

Kimball acknowledged that, vectorization aside, CockroachDB won't be a direct competitor for analytical databases. And that philosophy seems to underline CockroachDB's development in general: do one thing, and do it well. Kimball was well aware of ongoing trends in the database world today, for example GraphQL interfaces, or graph engines and visualization capabilities.

The focus for CockroachDB, however, seems to be on getting the main thing right -- SQL on a global scale. Everything else can be added over time (GraphQL, for example), or via 3rd party integrations (anything that works on top of PostgreSQL should work on top of CockroachDB).

A Gmail for databases

The worldwide public cloud services market is forecasted to grow nearly 20 percent in 2020 to a total upwards of $260 billion, according to Gartner. It is expected that by 2022, 75 percent of all databases will be deployed or migrated to a cloud platform. This is a theme that we've been emphasizing on Big on Data - the combination of cloud and open source databases.

Of course, Cockroach Labs is not the only game in town when it comes to cloud databases. As we have noted, CockroachDB is built on the blueprint of Cloud Spanner, Google's fully managed, relational database service for regional and global application data. Google announced new features such as backup on demand and local emulator for Spanner. Kimball thinks it's great that Google continues to invest in Spanner:

"That move underscores the size of the market opportunity. Businesses moving to the cloud are looking for next-generation databases. The ability to run with a local emulator and allow use of foreign keys are table stakes features for a relational DB-as-a-Service (DBaaS) offering that we've been providing to our customers for some time. Now, we're looking to serverless as the next frontier of databases, which can dramatically reduce the friction in the dynamics of how developers consume databases."

Serverless is an overloaded term. Kimball uses it to refer to the ability to just spin a database and go, without having to worry about configuring nodes, failover, capacity and the like. Not to be confused with what many developers know as serverless programming, for example. The concept may be similar, as the tenet of serverless programming is developing functions without worrying about deployment, but the context is different.

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Cloud is the future for databases

(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Kimball, however, uses an interesting metaphor to refer to CockroachDB's approach to self-service managed DBaaS. Cockroach Cloud was released in October in beta, and it will be generally available this summer, probably in July as per Kimball. Going over the evolution of the models for using databases, from on-premises to the cloud, Kimball likened Cockroach Cloud to Gmail. The analogy is a simple one - you just log in and go. Plus, Cockroach Cloud is the real thing, not a teaser:

"It's actually free, which is nice. And we can allow a single developer to have many databases. So we think of it as the way Gmail changed the dynamics of email back in 2003, just made things a lot simpler. A lot less friction for users".

All the VCs that have funded Cockroach Labs are seeing something, apparently. We posit that something is the fact that CockroachDB seems to have a solid technical background, built on an engineering-first culture, is open-source, but also flexible when it comes to licensing, and multi-cloud / hybrid cloud ready.

This means that CockroachDB could position itself as a contender against both legacy databases, cloud vendor offerings, and other open source databases. It will be interesting to see how things play out.