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Data chess game: Databricks, MongoDB and Snowflake make moves for the enterprise, part 2

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Data chess game: Databricks, MongoDB and Snowflake make moves for the enterprise, part 2

To further strengthen our commitment to providing industry-leading coverage of data technology, VentureBeat is excited to welcome Andrew Brust and Tony Baer as regular contributors. Watch for their articles in the Data Pipeline.

This is the second of a two-part series. Read part 1 dissecting how Databricks and Snowflake are approaching head-to-head competition.

As we noted yesterday, June was quite a month by post-lockdown standards, as back to back, MongoDB, Snowflake and Databricks each held their annual events in rapid succession. Historically, each of these vendors might have crossed paths in the same enterprises, but typically with different constituencies. So, they didn’t directly compete against each other.

Recent declines in financial markets notwithstanding, each of these companies are considered among the hottest growth players on the cloud data platform side, with valuations (private or market) ranging into the tens of billions of dollars. While Databricks is still private, MongoDB and Snowflake have their IPOs well behind them.

Player positions

They are each positioning themselves as default destination platforms for the enterprise. Databricks and Snowflake at this point are on each other’s competitive radars and yesterday, we gave our take on the chess game that they are playing. In this installment, we look at what each player must do to appeal to the broader enterprise. While there are differences in target markets, especially with MongoDB, there is a common thread for all three: to grow further, they are going to have to spread beyond their comfort zones.

So, what are those comfort zones? Databricks and Snowflake come from different parts of the analytics worlds, while MongoDB has focused on operational use cases. Historically, they each appealed to different audiences. Databricks to data engineers and data scientists, Snowflake to business and data analysts, and MongoDB to app developers.

But recent moves from all three providers are starting to breach those silos. Let’s start with deployment. Of the three, MongoDB is the only one with on-premises presence (the other two are cloud pure plays), but barely five years into its Atlas cloud database service, the company’s revenues are now mostly cloud-driven. While MongoDB will likely never be a cloud pure play, the cloud is distinctly driving its future.

Next is operations. With Snowflake adding a lightweight transaction processing engine and MongoDB making early moves to start addressing analytics beyond visualization, we were prompted to ask a few weeks back whether they are on a collision course. Our take? In the short term, they are still in separate universes, but in the long run, never say never. 

As for analytics, we noted yesterday, Databricks and Snowflake are more vocal about expanding into each other’s turfs. 

Nonetheless, while MongoDB remains the most vocal about sticking to its knitting as an operational database, beneath the surface it’s making the first moves to come to terms with the relational database folks and dip its toes into analytics. 

The starting points

Let’s look at the messages coming out of each of the summits last month. MongoDB’s was about doubling down on developers. In CTO Mark Porter’s keynote, he spoke of the mounting volume of new applications that would be coming forth over the next few years and, with it, the need for expedient approaches enabling developers to overcome the hurdles to getting apps into production. At Snowflake, it was all about reinforcing the “data cloud” as a destination by expanding its reach, both into transaction processing and machine learning. And for Databricks, it was all about benchmarks, governance and lineage capabilities showing that the data lakehouse is ready for prime time and capitalizing on their open-source strategy.

The starting points for each player places their ambitions into perspective. MongoDB’s official mission is enabling businesses to operate as “software companies.” That reflects the fact that MongoDB’s constituency has traditionally been software developers, and that they must be able to be productive if their organizations are to operate at software company velocity. A recurring message of that strategy is that traditional databases have proven to be hurdles, owing to the rigid nature of relational schema and the inability to scale them out.

For Snowflake, it is about targeting business and data analysts who rely on data warehouses with a cloud-native reinvention tackling the barriers of ease of use, scaling and data sharing.

And for Databricks, it is about harnessing the breadth and scale of the data lake with a soup-to-nuts development and execution environment powered by Apache Spark, Photon and Delta Lake.

The next steps

This is where getting outside the comfort zone becomes critical. Let’s examine each provider individually.

MongoDB

For MongoDB, it’s not just about app developers, but also the database folks, as we outlined in our piece last month. For MongoDB to become the default operational data platform for new applications, it must go beyond being a developer company to also becoming a data company. 

MongoDB has made some early moves in this direction, such as upping its security game and writing a bona fide SQL query engine. The company needs to make deeper cultural shifts, such as pivoting away from the message denigrating SQL and obsolete database practices. MongoDB responds that relational database developers should also pivot, or at least accept the fact that the document model doesn’t mean walking away from the skillsets and disciplines that they’ve developed. The MongoDB platform does support schema validation. But schema tends to be variable in most MongoDB implementations, so we would like to see more focused efforts in the future for developing data lineage capabilities that could track schema evolution.

Either way, our message to MongoDB remains: Don’t alienate a key constituency (SQL database developers) that you will need to extend your enterprise footprint. We would like to see more positive outreach in the future.

Snowflake

For Snowflake, it’s convincing data scientists that Snowpark should be an effective execution environment for their models. The company has a new partnership with Anaconda, which curates Python libraries, to optimize them for execution in Snowpark. But doubters remain; for instance, H2O.ai contends that it is more efficient to bite the bullet and run machine learning models in their clusters that can multithread processes, then feed results back to Snowflake.

Since introducing Snowpark a couple of years ago, Snowflake has improved its ability to optimally scale resources for user-defined functions (UDFs) written in languages such as Java or Python.

Of course, the recent announcement of Unistore places operational analytics within Snowflake’s sights. However, we don’t view this as a vast land grab for a new constituency as the company is not going after the SQL Servers, Oracles or MongoDBs of the world.

Databricks

For Databricks, it’s about making the data lakehouse more business- and database analyst-friendly. These folks work with data modeling and BI tools, not notebooks; there needs to be another entry path providing a view that makes Delta Lake look more like a data warehouse.

And business analysts expect consistent performance for both interactive queries and batch reporting. The TPC-DS benchmarks are designed around analytics/decision support workloads, but as with EPA gas mileage ratings, your results will vary. Significantly, the next stage for Photon is reducing latencies under more typical query conditions, along with broadening support of table and file formats beyond Delta Lake and Parquet, respectively.

Bringing it all together for a game-winning strategy

The common thread is that, coming from different starting points, each provider must connect to new constituencies. The key won’t be technology alone, but culture and structuring of the core business. Go-to-market, field and support teams must be recruited who can talk to the different constituencies. Debates over purity must go out the door.

Can MongoDB talk to relational database people as well as developers? Will Snowflake talk the language of data scientists, and can Databricks cultivate the BI crowd? These are not talking points that you’ll see on a press release.

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Web3 and the transition toward true digital ownership 

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Web3 and the transition toward true digital ownership 

NFT Marketplace and Decentralized Exchange Concept - A Marketplace for Non-fungible Tokens Based on New Web3 and Blockchain Technology - 3D Illustration

Image Credit: ArtemisDiana/Getty

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How do you think you would answer if I asked you the following question: What do you own online?” 

In real life, you own your home, the car you drive, the watch you wear, and anything else you have purchased. But do you own your email address or your business’s website? How about the pictures that populate your Instagram account? Or the in-game purchases on Fortnite or FIFA video games or whatever else you are playing? 

My best guess is, after casting your mind through the things you use the internet for (which for everybody is pretty much everything, social and professional), you would struggle to find a solid answer. 

Maybe you would ask me to explain what I mean by “ownership.” But it doesn’t really matter. And while I don’t mean this to be a trick question, it kind of is. Because in the current version of the internet, we don’t have ownership rights online

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Digital ownership: Participants and products 

To understand why we don’t own anything online, we must first understand the evolution of the internet and how it gave rise to the business model that has dominated its current iteration. 

In the 1990s — the decade of desktop computers and dial-up connections — the internet was predominantly a content delivery network consisting of simple static websites showcasing information. What we refer to today as Web1 was slow, siloed, and disorganized. 

Next came the platforms, such as Facebook (now Meta) and Google, driven by wireless connectivity and the development of handheld devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets, which gave us free-to-use services that enabled us to edit, interact with and generate content. These platforms centralized the web, putting in place a top-down structure that saw users reliant on their systems and services. 

This evolution of the internet took place in the mid-2000s and is the version we know today. We call it Web2. It is a model based on connectivity and user-generated content, made in the image and interests of companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. 

In this environment, netizens are both participants and products. We sign up for services in exchange for our data, which is sold to advertisers, and we create content that generates value and fuels engagement for these platforms. We do all this while having no rights to anything online.

Our social media profiles can be taken down and our access to email accounts or messenger apps suspended. We don’t own any of the digital assets we purchase and have no autonomy over our data. Businesses we build online are often reliant on platforms and are therefore vulnerable to algorithms, data breaches and shadow bans. 

The deck is stacked against us. Because the option not to be involved, when so much of the commerce and communication in the world takes place online, is not really an option at all. And yet there is nothing that we can point to and call ours. Nothing we have any actual authority over.

And, it is this dynamic that Web3 is determined to change. 

Web3 and the “internet of value” 

Right now, when most people hear the term “Web3” they probably think “metaverse”. But a better way to think about Web3 is as the evolution of the internet. 

Today, the digital experience is very corporate and very centralized. Web3 will offer the dynamic, app-driven user experience of the current mobile web in a decentralized model, shifting the power from big tech back to the users. It will do this by spreading the data outward — putting it back in the hands of netizens who are then free to use, share and monetize it as they see fit — and expanding the scale and scope of interactions between users and the internet. 

Underpinning that expansion will be guaranteed access, which means anyone can use any service without permissions and no one can block, restrict or remove any user’s access. 

The idea then is that Web3 will not only be more egalitarian but that it will create an “Internet of Value” because the value generated by the web will be shared much more equitably between users, companies, and services, with much better interoperability. Users will have full ownership, authority, and control over both the content they create and their data. But how will this help us transition toward true digital ownership? 

NFTs hold the key to digital ownership 

The truth is that digital ownership is not too hard a problem to solve. And we already have the solution: NFTs. 

In the public consciousness, NFTs are known for the projects that have garnered the most media attention, such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club. While projects such as these have catapulted the term into the zeitgeist, the usefulness of the underlying technology has been much less discussed. 

Simply put, NFTs act as proof of ownership. The details of the NFT’s holder are recorded on the blockchain, all transactions and transfers are tracked and transparent and available to the public, and everything is managed by the token’s unique ID and metadata.

So, how does this work in practice? Let’s say I create an NFT. As soon as I upload it, a “smart contract” is created that tracks its creation, the current owner, and the royalties I will receive. If someone decides to purchase it, they own that NFT and any additional perks that come with ownership. Their details are registered on the blockchain and nobody can edit or remove them. 

Now, let’s say that the market for my NFTs starts to heat up, demand grows and the value of my collection begins to rise. If the owner decides to sell, they make a profit and I earn a small royalty from the resale. The change in ownership is tracked on-chain in real-time and the smart contract ensures my royalty fee is deposited directly in my wallet. This is the key value proposition of NFTs: Verifiable ownership and the option to liquidate digital assets. 

What’s next for Web3? 

This is what ownership looks like in Web3. It is the promise that netizens will be able to own their digital assets in the same way that they own their home, car and watch. NFTs will usher in a more equitable digital economy and will play a central role in the future of digital commerce. 

The fact is that as of right now, we are still writing the Web3 rulebook. This is still a very new, very young space. And while few things are certain, what we can say for sure is that the internet is only moving in one direction: ownership. 

The guiding principle in Web3 is to accelerate the transition towards a more equitable digital environment. It is very much opt-in, an internet built by the people for the people. It is one in which ownership is the foundation upon which new products, networks, and experiences are being built. And it is fundamental to establishing the internet of value. 

Over the next few years, as Web3 develops it will operate alongside Web2. The infrastructure supporting Web2 is very strong and I don’t see us completely shifting away from that any time soon. However, in the medium-to long-term, Web3 will completely reshape our relationship with the internet.

Filip Martinsson is cofounder and chief operating officer of Moralis.

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Apple blocked the latest Telegram update over a new animated emoji set

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Apple blocked the latest Telegram update over a new animated emoji set

Ever since Apple launched the App Store, developers big and small have gotten caught up in the company’s approval process and had their apps delayed or removed altogether. The popular messaging app Telegram is just the latest, according to the company’s CEO Pavel Durov. On August 10th, Durov posted a message to his Telegram channel saying the app’s latest update had been stuck in Apple’s review process for two weeks without any real word from the company about why it was held up. 

As noted by The Verge, the update was finally released yesterday, and Durov again took to Telegram to discuss what happened. The CEO says that Apple told Telegram that it would have to remove a new feature called Telemoji, which Durov described as “higher quality vector-animated versions of the standard emoji.” He included a preview of what they would look like in his post — they’re similar to the basic emoji set Apple uses, but with some pretty delightful animations that certainly could help make messaging a little more expressive. 

“This is a puzzling move on Apple’s behalf, because Telemoji would have brought an entire new dimension to its static low-resolution emoji and would have significantly enriched their ecosystem,” Durov wrote in his post. It’s not entirely clear how this feature would enrich Apple’s overall ecosystem, but it still seems like quite the puzzling thing for Apple to get caught up over, especially since Telegram already has a host of emoji and sticker options that go far beyond the default set found in iOS. Indeed, Durov noted that there are more than 10 new emoji packs in the latest Telegram update, and said the company will take the time to make Telemoji “even more unique and recognizable.”

There are still a lot of emoji-related improvements in the latest Telegram update, though. The company says it is launching an “open emoji platform” where anyone can upload their own set of emoji that people who pay for Telegram’s premium service can use. If you’re not a premium user, you’ll still be able to see the customized emoji and test using them in “saved messages” like reminders and notes in the app. The custom emoji can be interactive as well — if you tap on them, you’ll get a full-screen animated reaction. 

To make it easier to access all this, the sticker, GIF and emoji panel has been redesigned, with tabs for each of those reaction categories. This makes the iOS keyboard match up with the Android app as well as the web version of Telegram. There are also new privacy settings that let you control who can send you video and voice messages: everyone, contacts or no one. Telegram notes that, like its other privacy settings, you can set “exceptions” so that specific groups or people can “always” or “never” send you voice or video messages. The new update — sans Telemoji — is available now.

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