Profile: TrackVia

Another Database Startup Defies Conventional Wisdom

Posted by John Foley
/ IW

Jul 17, 2008 06:25 PM


As a former database reporter, I take notice
when a startup comes out with a new database platform. The 30-year-old
database market is dominated by software behemoths likeOracle (NSDQ: ORCL), IBM (NYSE: IBM), and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) with entrenched customer bases. Is there room for another player? TrackVia, which just closed Series A funding, believes so.


TrackVia’s database is
available online as a service, not as PC or server software. It’s aimed
at small and midsized businesses, and it’s designed for fast and easy
implementation. The company’s Web site shows a variety of sample
applications — spreadsheet, contact management, real estate listings
— all variations of the row-and-column format of a relational
database.

Relational databases are more or less alike, and if you peel back
TrackVia’s service, you’ll find MySQL. The challenge has always been
that databases are notoriously difficult to set up and maintain,
especially for companies that don’t employ SQL programmers and database
administrators. But businesses have no choice — data volumes keep
growing, and they need some way of managing it all. So new market
entrants tend to focus on usability, manageability, and performance,
not rewriting databases from scratch.

I asked TrackVia for a better understanding of the software that
drives its service. The following explanation comes from CTO Matt
McAdams.

"We do use MySQL underneath TrackVia, but only for the
physical storage and retrieval of raw data values. The management of
all metadata — that is, the fields, data types, and records that
define an individual customer’s database — is done in a proprietary
data engine that sits above MySQL. So when a user converts a TrackVia
field from a number to a short answer, for example, or from a drop-down
list into a paragraph box, all of that is handled by our own data
engine. As another example, when a user creates a "checkbox" field
type, with 5 options that can be checked or unchecked independently,
that’s entirely a TrackVia construct, not a MySQL construct; and
TrackVia’s metadata engine is responsible for searching, filtering,
updating, converting, and other manipulation of that virtual data type."

"When we built the data engine, we consciously disregarded
a lot of conventional wisdom in the database industry. For example, our
core data model is not normalized — we use a very flat data structure
for speed. We provide the illusion of normalization in code above the
data engine, for example, when implementing a drop-down list or
pick-list field, or when linking data together with TrackVia’s
relational fields feature. As another example, we do very few joins in
TrackVia — we slurp large, flat lists from MySQL and post-process them
to achieve the same result as a join. The result is that TrackVia is
fast, much faster than any other commercial SaaS software (or any with
thousands of customers). And although we’ve intentionally reinvented
the wheel by building many database features in our own engine, our
customers have the benefit of using a database that was designed for
businesses, not programmers."

I haven’t tested TrackVia, but it appears to be a viable option for
workgroups and small companies that need to build a database app with
minimal fuss. Pricing starts at $30 per month for up to 3 users.

A few years ago, it looked as though the relational database market
was consolidating into just a few big players, with IBM acquiring
Informix and CA spinning off its CA Ingres database. But new products
from new companies keep springing up. In addition to TrackVia, founded
in 2005, here are some of the other relative newcomers.

Blist (founded 2007) offers a
free, spreadsheet-like online database for creating personalized lists,
or Blists, that can be easily shared with others. A lot of Blists are
creative consumer apps, but the company’s platform can also be used in
business for CRM and project management.

DabbleDB (founded 2005)
offers an online database that starts at $10 per month for one user and
goes up from there. It’s also free under a Creative Commons license.
Dabble claims to let you create a database in minutes; you can see a
list of Dabble DB’s features here. It’s so easy to use, according to one testimonial, that a nine-year-old boy created a database with it.

Vertica (founded 2005) uses
column-oriented organization of data for optimal performance of data
warehousing applications. This isn’t a product for nine-year-olds; JP
Morgan is a customer. Vertica was co-founded by Michael Stonebraker,
one of the pioneers of relational database software, who co-developed
Ingress while a professor at UC Berkeley.

QD Technology (founded
2004) compresses data into a portable high-performance database for
mobile users. It’s a tool for analysts and other power users in
business.

These are just some of the newcomers to the database market. Feel
free to weigh in with others. So much for the conventional wisdom that
the database market has settled into its golden years.

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