9 offbeat databases worth a look

By and large, if you need a database, you can reach for one of the big names—MySQL/MariaDB, PostgreSQL, SQLite, MongoDB—and get to work. But sometimes the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit all. Every now and then your use case falls down between barstools, and you need to reach for something more specialized. Here are nine offbeat databases that run the gamut from in-memory analytics to key-value stores and time-series systems.


The phrase “SQL OLAP system” generally conjures images of data-crunching monoliths or sprawling data warehouse clusters. DuckDB is to analytical databases what SQLlite is to MySQL and PostgreSQL. It isn’t designed to run at the same scale as full-blown OLAP solutions, but to provide fast, in-memory analytical processing for local datasets.

Many of DuckDB’s features are counterparts to what’s found in bigger OLAP products, even if smaller in scale. Data is stored as columns rather than rows, and query processing is vectorized to make the best use of CPU caching. You won’t find much in the way of native connectivity to reporting solutions like Tableau, but it shouldn’t be difficult to roll such a solution manually. Aside from bindings for C++, DuckDB also connects natively to two of the most common programming environments for analytics, Python and R.


“Edge” is a term used in graph databases to refer to the connection or relationship between two entities or nodes (such as between a customer and an order, or between an order and a product, etc.) of a highly connected dataset. EdgeDB uses the PostgreSQL core and all the properties it provides (like ACID transactions and industrial-strength reliability) to build what its makers call an “object-relational database” with strong field types and a SQL-like query language. 

Thus EdgeDB combines NoSQL-like ease of use and immediacy, the relational modeling power of a graph database, and the guarantees and consistency of SQL. Even though EdgeDB is not formally a document database, you can use it to store data that way. And you can use the GraphQL query language to easily retrieve data from EdgeDB, just as you can with native graph databases such as Neo4j.


An open source project spearheaded by Apple, FoundationDB is a “multi-model” database that stores data internally as key-value pairs (essentially the NoSQL model), but can be organized into relational tables, graphs, documents, and many other data structures. ACID transactions guarantee data integrity, and horizontal scaling and replication are both available out of the box. FoundationDB’s design comes with some stiff restrictions, though: keys, values, and transactions all have hard size limits, and transactions have hard time limits as well.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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