Cockroach CEO: Resilience breeds robust scalability for regulated data zones

Spencer Kimball knows the City of London. 

He makes it his business to be in town (typically) at least once a year to meet with the company’s customers in the UK and European financial markets. 

As CEO of Cockroach Labs (the company behind the CockroachDB database), this ex-software engineer turned platform innovator still clearly gets his hands dirty at the command line, or at least at the query statement front end.

“Resilience is why Cockroach exists,” Kimball told the Computer Weekly Developer Network while in the UK this month. Spoiler alert – that’s obviously where the company gets its name from i.e. a cockroach can survive a nuclear blast, or so the possibly apocryphal tale goes.

“That means we’re the right kind of data platform solution for financial institutions and those organisations that work in related disciplines in other forms of banking, payments, or in businesses where a high degree of regulation are needed and where an ability to be ready for scale is of paramount importance,” explained Kimball, before detailing the fact that the company has its own ‘scaling toolkit’ products to offer support for these actions.

Customer shift factors

While tech industry commentators are fond of suggesting where Cockroach’s most opportune customer feeding ground might be (IBM Db2 is an oft-cited favourite poach), Kimball is rational enough to state that ‘the mainframe isn’t going away any time soon’ – not even in the financial industry.

“It’s all about shifting data processing to where it’s most efficient and functional – and that could be a question of where cloud is more cost-efficient, but it is also a factor how much pain any given migration might take to execute and how much value the customer would get from the resulting use case,” advised Kimball. “It’s all about understanding what the business can credibly build its next 10 years’ worth of business upon,” he added.

I like redundancy – and redundancy

The Cockroach approach to data structure resilience of course encompasses a broad approach to system redundancy. With an ‘at least three’ sources approach to failover, Kimball’s base line is that even in a disaster recovery scenario ‘you need to have at least two’ sources of data to draw upon. 

“When it comes to digital operational resilience, it’s all about pushing towards architectures that have an inherent ability to ‘reconstitute’ and remain functional,” said Kimball. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will unsurprisingly be part of the story here and Cockroach makes use of AI to drive functions such as account mapping, account management and more In fact, the company drew more interest in its effort to enhance stored procedures functions in its 23.2 iteration which arrived at the start of 2024.

What are stored procedures?

Stored procedures are database subroutines made available to applications. They are commonly used for access control, for example, in well-established enterprise database systems such as Oracle and IBM’s Db2.

Cockroach CEO Spencer Kilmball: Kimball. “It’s all about understanding what a business can credibly build its next 10 years’ worth of business upon.

Nate Stewart, Cockroach Labs’ chief product officer has said that the work on stored procedures was part of the company’s plan to provide better support for projects involving migration of enterprise workloads as opposed to focusing on greenfield implementations.

As enterprises rely more than ever on cloud services to keep their mission-critical applications alive and available for users. Unfortunately, public cloud outages are becoming more frequent: over 60% of companies reported losses in 2022 due to infrastructure outages. 

“To meet these risks head-on, architects, operators and technical decision makers are improving the reliability and resilience of existing infrastructure, and/or modernising their enterprise architectures. CockroachDB 23.2 introduces new tools and capabilities to expedite both strategies: a live database migration service, enhanced disaster recovery capabilities and increased performance through smarter data distribution,” notes Stewart & Kimball and team. 

Other new 23.2 features include simplified migrations with read committed isolation; physical replication for fast recovery from cloud failures; and added support for Stored Procedures/UDFs – with the latter acronym referring to User Defined Functions, obviously. 

Migration frustration

The company reminds us that database migrations are notoriously difficult. 

Magical analyst house Gartner compares the process to a heart transplant, due to both complexity and the database’s fundamentally interconnected role at the centre of IT infrastructure. A mistake at any step can be costly, requiring either a complex rollback process or post-migration fixes.

CockroachDB 23.2 now offers a full suite of migration tooling called MOLT: Migrating Off Legacy Technologies. MOLT is designed to help de-risk, execute and validate a migration — in other words, to make database transitions as smooth as possible. 

MOLT Live Migration Service is a locally hosted, horizontally scalable proxy that routes traffic between an application, a source database and a target CockroachDB database to configure, test and validate a migration before going live. 

So to close, does that name ever jar with people, customers, anyone?

Kimball admits, one customer asked to list CockroachDB as ‘CDB’ on his product manifest or deployment notes, but they are the exception that proves the rule i.e. most of us in the chic geek fraternity and sorority think, huh – a cockroach, that’s cool. Just don’t step on one – and if you don’t believe us, look up necromone, more will come.

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