Michael Stonebraker’s contributions to data management technology are hard to overstate. He’s been the driving force behind nearly every major advance in databases for over 30 years.
Stonebraker is a Turing Award Laureate and the first Turing winner to have engaged in serial entrepreneurship on a large scale, giving him a distinctive perspective on the academic world.
He is the founder of 10 startup companies. Paradigm4 is his eighth. SciDB—a scalable, computational data management system for analyzing massive arrays of highly-dimensional and diverse data—evolved from technology developed at Mike’s MIT lab. It departs from the relational model to tackle 21st century data challenges.
Climbing Mount Everest
He began work as a young assistant professor at the University of California—Berkeley. After reading Edgar F. Codd’s seminal papers on the relational model, Stonebraker started work with a colleague, Eugene Wong, to develop an efficient and practical implementation. The result was INGRES.
INGRES brought a new kind of database technology to a new kind of computer. Database management systems were widely adopted by businesses from the early 1970s onwards as central hubs which managed the data used by many different application programs
INGRES was a significant player in the database software market over the next decade, making an initial public offering in 1988 before being acquired in 1990.
By this point Stonebraker was already immersed in the development and commercialization of a successor system – POSTGRES. Postgres added many features missing from existing relational systems, including support for rules to maintain consistent relationships between tables, support for complex “object-relational” data types, the replication of data across servers, and procedural languages to embed code fragments within the database management system to be triggered when specified conditions occurred.
In 1992 Stonebraker co-founded Illustra Information Technologies to market a commercial version. It was acquired in 1997 by Informix, which rebuilt its product line around the code.
Stonebraker retired from Berkeley in 1994, retaining a connection as a “Professor of the Graduate School.” In 1999 he moving to New Hampshire, soon taking up an adjunct appointment at MIT where he could focus on developing and commercializing new technologies without the obligation of regular faculty responsibilities.
Since then he has co-founded a company every few years, focusing on the development of database management technologies specialized for particular areas such as data warehousing (Vertica), managing data streams captured by sensors (StreamBase Systems), and high-throughput transaction processing (VoltDB). He is also a co-founder of Tamr, a commercial-grade solution designed to tackle the challenge of connecting and enriching diverse data.
Stonebraker is presently an adjunct professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he has begun a new series of research projects.
His “advice to theoreticians” is “go spend some time in the real world and work on problems that people want solved.” In contrast, “Knowing what I know now, I would never have started building INGRES, because it’s too hard…. So I think my advice to my younger self would be to suspend your disbelief and just do it anyway. The way you climb Mt. Everest is one step at a time…”