My database, the thing that has stood by me over the last ten to fifteen years is no longer viable. Turns out, in the agile, fast-paced mobile world, the traditional structured database just isn’t cutting it. We demand more flexibility. I blame the App Store. Yep, you got it, apps are to blame for the current woes in databases. This is a tale of how one major innovation can lead to many others. The App Store changed everything.
How? Well, it fundamentally changed how we distribute software – online instead of floppy disks. We were no longer bound by the floppy or the complexity of distributing software via snail mail. It’s pretty wild to think we actually sent software in the mail. Now, we can do various updates in a single year where, in the past, we were limited to one. We can be more creative and move quicker.
But the database broke. Mmhmm, the data structures require constant updates and speed but they need to be more dynamic than legacy databases were or are. The structured database is going by the way of Xerox machines and White-Out. Or maybe I should say it has gone by the way of a 2400 baud modem?
So, let’s look more closely at The App Store and software distribution. As I mentioned, “in the old days,” we put software on a diskette and send it to people. Now, much of the software we use is distributed electronically, like via the App Store or Google Play. There’s even an App Store for the Mac desktop and Apple is probably the best at sending their updated operating system out electronically. Somewhere around 65% of iPhone and Mac users update their software within a few days of a release, which is really unheard of.
Again, before the App Store and electronic distribution, we were severely limited. We couldn’t afford to do more than one or two updates a year. It was complex and expensive. Remember two-inch thick manuals? Or people dialing the call center asking where the “any key” was, as in “put the disk in and press ‘any key?’” And if you ever cut a “golden” disk and then found a bug, well, you were screwed. Even testing and QA had to be much more rigorous because there was little room for error. This meant one big update a year.
Fast forward to the app stores. Easily, you can update your software and consumers can download the app on their mobile devices. In fact, many of the apps are now auto-updated, so there’s no need to do a thing. It’s also super easy on the desktop. Most software companies let you download stuff right from your computer, via a browser.
What came next? Lots of updates. At Malauzai, we do ten releases a year. Software releases can be more frequent because a) it is cheaper and more feasible to update and b) it’s easier to test because if you find a bug late in the game it’s no big deal; you just do another App Store update. Additionally, with agile SDLCs and better solutions, there were fundamental changes. Agile is worthless when you do one or two updates a year. Why go fast if you slow down to release? Many orgs have found this out the hard way. They go agile to be faster but in reality, they still move like a waterfall during major releases. The result is they continue to release less frequently. I have no doubt the output of ten smaller releases is much higher than the legacy SDLC way of one to two a year. At Malauzai, we get more accomplished and we learn much faster.
What’s the data say? Over the past twelve to eighteen months we have come to the realization that structured databases are not flexible enough. We need something that can accommodate the amount of new functionality we build at the expedited rate we update. The database needs to be truly dynamic and have an innate ability to grow. The new database needs to be able to support ambiguity and not knowing all the requirements upfront. In short, it needs to evolve. What is this new database called? Let’s call it an Agile DB for now. I’m no engineer but what I can tell you as a business dude is that this is real. I know because I’m paying for it in the roadmap. I have to fund this new movement to a dynamic data structure. It is well worth the investment well.