Startup Readies Cloud-Based Relational Database

As Microsoft prepares to reveal its plans for a more robust offering of its emerging SQL Data Services, an obscure two-person company last week launched its own cloud-based relational database service.

FathomDB came out of stealth mode last Friday when it gave a presentation at the TechCrunch Cloud Computing Roundtable held in Mountain View, Calif. Based on Sun Microsystems' MySQL and hosted on Amazon's EC2 cloud service, FathomDB is intended for Web-based companies with high transactional requirements.

"We are much more OLTP [online transaction processing] than OLAP [online analytical processing]," said Justin Santa Barbara, the company's founder. Ironically, Santa Barbara was a Microsoft Certified Partner in the United Kingdom who developed ASP.NET tools but decided to come to Silicon Valley and embrace cloud computing.

"There are a lot of cloud players that are looking at focusing on OLAP technology, whereas we are considering the more generic standard relational databases running transaction-oriented applications such as Web sites," he said.

FathomDB provides relational databases as a utility, he said, meaning applications can be ported to the database without changes. The company monitors the database, performs backups and automates DBA processes. While the chosen platform today is MySQL, Santa Barbara is not ruling out offering hosted versions of Oracle, Microsoft's SQL Server and other database platforms.

Nevertheless, FathomDB is a small company whose success remains to be seen, with just Santa Barbara and one developer for now. It is backed by an angel investment from Y Combinator, a Mountain View, Calif.-based  provider of seed funding to early-stage startups. While Santa Barbara declined to say how much Y Combinator has invested in FathomDB, Y Combinator rarely makes initial investments of more than $20,000, according to its Web site.

Companies are often reluctant to rely on a small, unproven, supplier business-critical services. One did, but it too (not coincidentally) is a Y Combinator-backed venture. WebMynd Corp., which offers a browser plug-in to provide sophisticated visual search services, is the first to host its site on FathomDB. The company runs and manages its Web and search servers on Amazon EC2 using the FathomDB database. "As a search service, our scaling and infrastructure requirements are significant," said Amir Nathoo, WebMynd's founder and CEO, in an e-mail.

Nathoo estimated it would have taken double the amount of time had the company decided to build and host its own database, which has scaled to handle 5 million new inserts per day. "The WebMynd team does not have extensive DBA skills, so in order to have achieved that scale ourselves, we would have had to either hire someone in or sacrifice development time to manage the database and learn how to do that ourselves," he said.

Fathom's Santa Barbara argues services like Amazon's SimpleDB, Apache CouchDB and even Microsoft's early attempt at SQL Data Services require too much development. "I think it's a mistake to try to abandon all the lessons we learned about how we got to relational databases," he said.

The company has not announced pricing other than to say it will be usage-based, allowing small companies to scale based on growth. It's also looking at providing fee-based reporting services in the future, Santa Barbara said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.