MongoDB (formerly 10gen) is one of the key players in the red-hot NoSQL database market. Many businesses and cloud companies are flocking to NoSQL databases for big data applications. But what is MongoDB's overall channel partner strategy? Matt Asay, VP of business development and strategy, offered some insights.

The VAR Guy raised the following questions about 10gen (as it was still known at the time) earlier this month. Asay replied back with plenty of details. Here's a recap:

1. The VAR Guy: So far, what types of parters work closely with 10gen? Is it mostly hardware, ISV and cloud partners? Or are VARs and integrators beginning to wake up to this opportunity?

Asay: Today 10gen works with over 200 partners, which includes a range of: cloud (Amazon, Rackspace, SoftLayer...), ISVs (IBM, Informatica, Red Hat...), IHVs (Intel, Fusion-io, NetApp...), SIs (EPAM, RivetLogic...), and VARs (Carahsoft, Dimension Systems, OnX...). To your question, we're adding SI partners, in particular, at an accelerating pace. We've had interest for some time, but we wanted to work out how best to work with such partners before opening the doors wide. Now that internal work is done and we're ready.

2. Open Source VARs: Of the major open source companies, only a handful (such as Red Hat) have a loyal channel following. What steps is 10gen taking to attract the channel?

Asay: A channel partner needs to consider carefully where it's going to spend its resources. In part this is a market share consideration, but it's also a calculation as to how easy it is to work with a prospective partner. Like Red Hat, we dominate our category: we're by far the most popular NoSQL database across a broad range of metrics and we're also the fastest growing Big Data community. But unlike Red Hat, we haven't historically worked actively through partners.

That is now changing. First, we've laid a robust training groundwork to make partners productive, fast. Our Education team created an exceptional online education tool and attracted over 100,000 registrants in its first few months. We leverage this and some additional, partner-specific training to help our partners understand both the technology and business value of MongoDB.

Second, as a company we're reorienting around channel partners, including the most vibrant cloud channel of any company in our space. Just look at the work we're doing with Amazon, SoftLayer, Rackspace, Microsoft Azure and a variety of others. Given the prevalence of MongoDB adoption by mobile and web application developers, these cloud deployment partners are essential to their and our success.

Third, we make it attractive to work with us. We're not so short-sighted as to stumble over pennies in terms of margin while ignoring the big dollars that come from robust channel relationships.

3. Cloud Services Providers: Are you attracting interest from CSPs that want to host MongoDB for customers?

Asay: Yes. As mentioned, we have an unparalleled cloud ecosystem. Unlike traditional databases, which are primarily run on premise, a significant percentage of our business is with companies that are comfortable running us on both private and public clouds. So we work with Amazon, Rackspace, SoftLayer, Microsoft Azure and others, including several CSPs that are focused exclusively on MongoDB, like MongoHQ and MongoLabs. No one else has this breadth or depth of cloud interest.

4. Early Learnings: You personally have worked for a range of open source companies. What takeaways from your days at Alfresco, Novell, Canonical and others are you applying at 10gen?

Asay: Over my years in open source I've learned both not to take community for granted but also not to assume that a community will necessarily build your product for you. There's a real balance. As Marten Mickos once characterized it, most members of a community are users, not developers, but the bigger that user community, the more interesting the project becomes for developers, and the more potent one's feedback loop. I feel really blessed to work at a company that has such a massive, enthusiastic community, but also a tremendous amount of revenue. I've never had both in the same company before.

Much of 10gen's financial and community success derives from the same thing: fanatical focus on an exceptional product that is both powerful and easy to use. Developers love it and so happily bring it into their respective enterprises to use it for a variety of projects. Once an enterprise comes to depend on MongoDB, they tend to purchase support or other services. But the starting point is a great product and respect for developers.

5. Killer Applications: What are the top use cases for MongoDB?

Asay: MongoDB is used in a wide variety of use cases It's truly a general purpose database that we aim to excel at handling the vast majority of existing applications, and to be the optimal choice for a majority of applications going forward.

So we see MongoDB used as the No. 1 database used for Big Data applications, which require a real-time operational data store. We also see it used for mobile and social infrastructure. In fact, MongoDB got a big boost from IBM recently, which threw its considerable weight behind MongoDB as an industry standard for mobile and web applications.

Another use case that I really love is MongoDB as an enterprise data hub, similar to what MetLife did with its customer service application "The Wall." The company struggled for years to get a relational database to serve as a central hub for more than 70 data sources, including relational databases and mainframes. In just two weeks, MetLife had a working prototype built using MongoDB, pulling all that disparate data into a master schema. MongoDB's flexibility made it easy. So much so, in fact, that just a few weeks later MetLife was in production with the application, and has now built other applications.

These are just a few of the use cases for MongoDB that we routinely see. As I said, it's a general purpose database. With some exceptions, if you can build it with a relational database, you can probably build it better with MongoDB. And for a whole new class of application that are more mobile and social with data that isn't neat and tidy, MongoDB is far and away your best choice.

6. Profits: Where can partners generate profits with 10gen?

Asay: MongoDB is the world's most popular NoSQL database, and the fastest-growing Big Data community. As such, we have no end of opportunities for SI partners to build MongoDB-based applications with us, or cloud partners to host MongoDB-based applications. There is far more demand for MongoDB than supply of trained partners. We're working on that, but it means that now is a great time to build a business on MongoDB.

7. ISVs: What types of independent software vendors are flocking toward 10gen?

Asay: We see ISVs of all kinds attracted to MongoDB's popularity, but perhaps particularly we've had a lot of interest from Business Intelligence and other data-related ISVs. Companies like Informatica, QlikTech, Talend, and more. Importantly, MongoDB is generally the first and often the only NoSQL technology they support.

8. NoSQL vs SQL, Relational: How do you position MongoDB vs. traditional databases? Where do relational databases still make sense and where is NoSQL the more ideal solution?

Asay: There are very few categories of applications for which MongoDB is not a great choice. If you're working with complex transactions, for example, MongoDB is likely not the right fit. But these are old-school problems that legacy databases solve very well.

Forrester calls such applications systems of record, and they've served us well for a long time.

Looking forward, we're moving into systems of engagement, with applications revolving around increasingly unstructured data, which is where MongoDB really shines. These aren't applications that help you record what happened in your business, but instead help companies generate new business through social engagement, mobile distribution, etc.

We handle structured and semi-structured data just fine, but it's when you start working with unstructured data that relational databases fall down, particularly when you need to scale. A relational database can generally only scale up, which is both expensive and ultimately futile if you're working with large quantities of data. MongoDB auto-shards and hence scales out seamlessly, with no downtime.

I don't see relational databases disappearing tomorrow. Just as we still have green screens running in the enterprise, RDBMS's have a long, if increasingly narrow, reason for existing. This is why MongoDB is on course to be the fourth most popular database by the end of 2013, displacing all but three legacy RDBMS's.

9. Expansion: What steps is 10gen taking to expand its business? Will you need to raise money to fund that expansion?

Asay: 10gen has raised $81 million to date. While we always reserve the possibility of raising more money, we're much more focused on driving revenue as we approach profitability. One thing this involves is expanding our footprint globally. Hence, we just expanded into Asia Pacific in a big way.

10. Partner Support: What types of training, marketing and sales support do you offer VARs and channel partners?

Asay: In general, our partner support is similar to what you'd see at other companies. Where we really stand out, however, is the breadth and depth of online training that we provide. We have the best online education platform in the industry, I'd argue, and we're now feeding additional sales training for our partners. We want to make it even easier to get started with MongoDB, and build big businesses around it.

Next Moves

Where will MongoDB and the NoSQL movement go from here? The short answer seems to be more investments. Couchbase, another NoSQL company, just raised $25 million in funding. How will Couchbase use that money? Stay tuned for more updates...