Stargate: A new way to think about databases

As with many corporate-sponsored open source projects, Stargate becomes most interesting when it gets beyond its roots. DataStax open sourced Stargate “because we got tired of using different databases and different APIs depending on the work that we were trying to get done.” Billed as an “open source API framework for data,” the project aims to offer “a framework that can serve many APIs for a range of workloads.”

And yet Stargate starts with Apache Cassandra, the database upon which DataStax has built its business. For analyst Tony Baer, Stargate “could eventually turn Apache Cassandra into a multi-model database,” and he’s not wrong. But this isn’t what makes Stargate interesting.

No, Stargate becomes interesting if a community grows up around it to accomplish what the fictional “stargate” was designed to do: serve as a “bridge portal device… that allows practical, rapid travel between two distant locations.” In other words, a “data gateway” that turns any database into a multi-model database with “pluggable back ends so that developers can work with data in any shape they want via an API,” as DataStax chief data officer Denise Gosnell put it in an interview.

Speaking the same database language

Let’s say you don’t spend nights and weekends obsessing over databases. What would Stargate mean for you? As Gosnell put it:

Think about building a new app. You have databases all over the place. You have requirements for your web apps that need SQL. They need documents/JSON, or they could need GraphQL. You’ve got all these requirements from your back-end engineering team, and you’d have a bunch of requirements from your front-end engineering team. Stargate is an API layer that sits right in between that conversation and makes it possible to serve both of them from one existing technology.

DataStax is getting there by open sourcing the Cassandra coordinator code. DataStax started with Cassandra for obvious reasons: The company knows the database well and Cassandra is a great option for handling distributed data requests. But it’s that coordinator code that is the heart of Stargate, as Gosnell explained. The hardest aspect of the logic between a customer’s API and their back end is the distributed request coordination, i.e., ensuring proper load balancing, directing database requests to the right place, etc. This is what Cassandra’s coordinator code does well.

The company wants more developers to “join our community and help us prioritize which features we need next” in Stargate, Gosnell stressed. It’s a great story, one that helps DataStax, of course, but also has the potential to be useful for other vendors and with other databases. And that is where Stargate could go from an interesting, single-vendor project into something much more noteworthy.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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