Terracotta Doesn’t Want to Kill Your Database, Just Maim It

I ran across Terracotta Inc. a few months ago while looking at database companies, and was impressed by the potential of its eponymously named open source software, which can make web applications scale faster and more cheaply than they do when information is stored in a database. Instead the software from Terracotta, which was formed in 2003 and has raised $29 million from Accel Partners, DAG Ventures, Benchmark Capital and Goldman Sachs, takes information and writes it to a shared cluster of memory.

That makes the data available for quick access without the need for the arduous and time-consuming processes of structuring it for a database, storing it there and retrieving it later. It’s not appropriate for information such as sales records and other data that either fits well in a table or needs to be accessible for a long period of time. And it only works in Java.

If you think of data as clothing, a database is like a closet, where you can hang and store items in an orderly fashion — knowing they will be left in the same place you hung them. Terracotta is like a dresser drawer where you put your clothes that need to be grabbed on the fly — like a pair of socks. The data is still there, but it’s a lot faster to toss your socks in a drawer than to take the time to hang them on hangers. In a web application with lots of data coming in, it turns out drawers work just fine.

This may be bad news for Oracle (s orcl), which makes money convincing customers they need more closets (it does have Coherence, a similar product). However, companies from Adobe (s ADBE), that uses Terracotta for its ConnectNow web conferencing service, to startup Gnip, which uses it to deliver a variety of personal tweets, emails and other messages, have decided that they need sock drawers.