Oracle has long dominated the database market with an appliance-led business model that locks the customer in. But enterprises are waking up to the fact that relational databases cannot address all of today’s business requirements, and have started to look at alternative offerings from smaller, more focused companies.

Once such company is 10gen, the company behind MongoDB – an open source document database, popular among developers and IT professionals due to its agile and scalable approach. 10gen has more than 600 commercial customers including Cisco, Craigslist, Disney, EA, eBay, Ericsson, Forbes, Foursquare, Intuit, LexisNexis, McAfee, MTV,, Shutterfly and Telefonica.

And Eliot Horowitz, CTO and co-founder of 10gen, explained at the company's latest user conference in London how it plans to continue chipping away at Oracle's core database market.

“The thing we really don't like about Oracle more than anything is the data model. We think that the relational data model is good for some use cases, but the document model is actually better for a large number of use cases,” he said.

“Storing things in documents versus a relational model is just is a very different experience from a developer standpoint, it has a lot of performance implications. And also, because of the data model, it lets us do horizontal scalability, which is very hard for a relational database.”

He said that developers are getting increasingly frustrated with their inability to innovate and change things quickly on Oracle. The shift to NoSQL databases like MongoDB is therefore being driven predominantly by the development community itself.

This is true both in large enterprises and SMEs, where the ability to innovate is perhaps most crucial, according to Horowitz. Enabling programmers to be more efficient allows the company to get features out faster, ultimately affecting the bottom line.

One example is online photo and video sharing service Shutterfly, which adopted MongoDB after massive data growth stretched the performance limits of its existing Oracle database. Applications took a long time to build properly and, once built, they wouldn’t perform quickly enough.

According to Kenny Gorman, director of data service at Shutterfly, the real “killer reason” for choosing MongoDB was its rich JSON-based data structure, which offers Shutterfly an agile approach to develop software. The Shutterfly team can quickly develop and deploy new Web 2.0 and social features that were difficult and costly to implement on their legacy system.

Shutterfly has also benefited from reliable sever support, improved system visibility and access to the open source MongoDB community. The company's switch from Oracle to MongoDB resulted in a nine-fold performance improvement and substantial cost reduction.

Mobile operator O2 also uses MongoDB to deliver its Priority Moments location-based service, which delivers money saving deals from leading brands directly to O2 customers.

MongoDB offers auto-sharding architecture that allows O2 to easily add new machines and scale out without single points of failure. In addition, MongoDB provides geospatial features out of the box, and its flexible scheme enables continuous delivery of new features to the service.

Although MongoDB claims to be leading the NoSQL movement, Horowitz admitted that 10gen still has a long way to go before it can challenge Oracle's dominance. After all, the company is still less than five years old, and some enterprises can take a year to migrate their data, so refresh cycles are fairly long.

“We don't agree with Oracle's data model, but a lot of the other things that you get with Oracle or any relational database are very good, so we've got to bring those concepts to the document universe,” said Horowitz.

“That's just going to take a long time because Oracle's been doing this for 30 years and they've got a lot of very good features, and we've got a lot of catching up to do.”

10gen is therefore working to release new versions of its internal components and introduce new features that developers and enterprises are asking for, such as real-time aggregation, management tools and enterprise-grade security.

It is also working with a range of partners to extend the MongoDB ecosystem. These include companies that offer MongoDB as a managed services, such as Rackspace and Softlayer, BI companies like Jaspersoft that put a 'business front end' on the data, and companies offering third-party management applications.

“If you look at Oracle, you see that a lot in their ecosystem. They've got a bunch of their own stuff, there are a bunch of third party Oracle tools that are pretty popular. I don't think that's a bad thing, competition in that stuff is actually very good,” said Horowitz.

In Europe, 10gen is already gaining traction with web companies, banks and even the British government, and use cases vary widely, from large-scale consumer web applications to complex data modelling.

However, 10gen does not expect to be able to compete with Oracle in every area. Many companies will run Oracle side-by-side with a NoSQL database like and MongoDB in a hybrid deployment, and pick the features they like from each.

“There's definitely a use case for relational data models, I don't think that Mongo is going to be the best at every single thing. But I do think that a large percentage of applications could use Mongo instead of a data model,” he said.