The decline and fall of the relational database


The rise of the steganographers
This movement overlaps to some extent with the democriticians and the chaoticians. Steganographers point out that “structured” is really a subset of “un-structured” when it comes to information. If there are a few identifiable integer, date and dollar fields to be found in all the invoices, curriculum vitae, recipes, product descriptions etc., why not simply smuggle them inside the word processor or html pages that hold all the rest of the information? To the steganographers, much of the worlds information is semi-structured at best. Their position is that it is better to start with an open-ended design in which anything goes i.e. the use of very loose data models such as text fields, word processor files, spreadsheets etc., and layer on whatever islands of structure you can. Aiding their cause is the emergence of tools and techniques to effectively index large corpora of semi-structured text. Many search engines support the creation of "fields" that can be embedded into otherwise unstructured documents and these are indexed and queried in a very analogous way to how relational databases function. The primary difference say the steganographers, is that the messy, irregular real world documents remain the real deal and the indexing sub-system is simply a finding aid - not the repository per se.
The rise of the agilists
Agilists prize one thing above all else and that is the speed with which an IT system can change shape over time. Back in the Eighties, the world experimented with 4GLs, many of which had the notion of evolving a data model hand in glove with the applications built on top of it. More recently web-oriented database application development systems like Django and Ruby On Rails have done much to promote the idea that the application level data structures are really primary and that the relational data model “falls out” as just one possible way to represent the application model at the storage layer.
The intriguing thing about this is that the data modelling language is not predicated on a relational storage model. It just so happens that the first back-ends for these frameworks have been relational. The very fact that both frameworks speak of relational databases as one possible "back end" speaks volumes for what is going to happen in this space. Namely, we will see more and more back-ends for these frameworks that are not relational at all. 

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