Memcached Gets NoSQL in Membase

The open source memcached application is often used in conjunction with databases to help cache and accelerate data. A new approach from memcached sponsor NorthScale is taking a slightly different tack by integrating memcached directly with its new open source Membase server.

The Membase server is an open source NoSQL database project that is backed by NorthScale as well as apps developer Zynga. With open source Membase, the aim is to provide a new type of low-latency, scalable database system for dynamic Web applications.

Membase was originally begun as a commercial effort by NorthScale, and is now being open sourced in an effort to further adoption. NorthScale is one of the leading backers of the memcached open source project and recently raised $10 million in venture funding.

“Long story short is that there are a lot of people that will never pay for software, so we’d rather they pick ours than someone else’s,” James Phillips, co-founder of NorthScale, told . “We believe that if we can build a large, open source community, we can leverage that into part of the market that wants a vendor relationship and where there is a willingness to pay for software.”

NorthScale will be providing a commercial distribution of Membase, which will have support attached to it. Phillips noted that in the beginning, at least, the open source Membase NoSQL project and the NorthScale Membase distribution will for the most part be the same software.

Phillips explained that what Membase will enable is an elastic database that can scale easily. When used in a cluster, adding a new Membase NoSQL node is just a matter of clicking one button, he said, and once the new node is added, the data is automatically rebalanced across the cluster.

“It is more elastic in that regard than memcached traditionally has been,” Phillips said. “With memcached today, you actually have to update a server list whenever you add new nodes, and it does not automatically rebalance.”

In terms of the relationship between memcached and Membase, Phillips explained that Membase is a superset of memcached. He added that when a user installs Membase onto a server, they get built-in main memory caching along with persistence, caching and dynamic recofigurability.

The NoSQL movement aims to offer an alternative type of database to the traditional SQL approach taken by RDBMS vendors like Oracle. Among the popular NoSQL databases available today are Cassandra, MongoDB and CouchDB.

Membase, however, isn’t necessarily intended to be a direct replacement for an RDMS system.

“Our view is that there is a lot of data that is being stored in RDBMS databases today that actually don’t need relational capabilities,” Philips said. “We provide a way to put lot of data to get at it quickly for large sets of data that really don’t need the properties of a RDBMS.”

In terms of migration from other databases to Membase, Phillips noted that there are migration capabilities available. The close relationship between memcached and Membase also enables developers to take advantage of the new NoSQL database.

“The front half of Membase is actually a memcached front end. Given that we’re leaders of both the memcached and Membase projects, we’re able to ensure that both projects are in lockstep and have protocol compatibility,” Philips said. “So for organizations using memcached today — and there are tens of thousands of them — Membase is a drop-in replacement, and because of that, it’s easy to migrate data.”

Membase is currently available as a beta with general availability set for August.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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