Opening the floodgates of the big data revolution

11 Jun 2013

Max Schireson, CEO of 10Gen

When Max Schireson, CEO of 10Gen, entered the lift at the company’s new headquarters in Latin Hall in Dublin’s city centre more than a week ago, proof that there was demand for the company’s technology MongoDB – a key enabler for what’s known as the big data revolution – came in the most unexpected way.

“It was a total coincidence,” he recalled. “Developers from outside the company were holding MongoDB meetings two floors beneath us and we met them in the elevator.”

Last year, 10Gen announced it was creating 60 new jobs in Dublin. But what surprised a lot of people when the company opened its European headquarters more than a week ago was how bullish Schireson was about the employment potential.

The company has already exceeded its employment targets and he reckons the operation will employ 150 people within five years, growing to 500 within 10 years.

10Gen is one of the key players in the rising genre of technology known as big data, whereby vast, multiple sources of information ranging from old legacy databases to social media commentary, news coverage and potentially sensors on streets, can be used to give real-time decision making analysis to organisations.

The technology has the potential to revolutionise many different industries and sectors, from healthcare to banking.

The key has been moving big data from the domain of large corporates to making sense to the ordinary businessperson.

The beginning of 10Gen

The former founders of DoubleClick Dwight Merriman and Kevin Ryan established 10Gen in 2007. The duo also founded e-commerce site Gilt Groupe.

The company’s primary technology is an open source NoSQL database software called MongoDB that can mine all kinds of systems and presents it to ordinary executives in a format they can understand, not unlike a Facebook wall or a Twitter feed, to give them an on-the-spot understanding of a situation or relationship in real-time.

“The founders of 10Gen started the MongoDB platform because they felt developers needed a database more scalable and better suited to be rolled out across commodity servers and be more agile and more powerful than traditional, relational databases,” Schireson explained.

“The biggest challenges for big data are the deployment of new technology across old systems and enabling iterative software development against non-iterative data sets.

“The key to big data is velocity and variety – everything from social media of today going back to legacy computer systems deployed in the 1980s.”

The Wall Street Journal has named 10Gen as the Next Big Thing of 2012 and the company, headquartered in the old New York Times building, counts organisations like Disney, MTV, Telefónica,, CompareTheMarket, McAfee and Orange as customers.

“To give you an example of how it works, data sets vary because they can come from different places like the web, social media sites, news sites, weather maps and old computer systems. Most of the data that matters comes from the practical daily realities of corporate life but with things like Facebook or Twitter you don’t know what’s going to happen next. A customer may be complaining about a business in a public forum, for example, about bad service they experienced. Firms need to know this and be proactive.

“One example is MetLife – one of the biggest insurers in the world – and it had to face the challenge of mining data from 70 different systems that their customer reps needed in real-time. Consolidating all of this data into real-time was a challenge and training under pressure executives in 70 different IT systems was out of the question.

“So we used MongoDB to build a wall modelled on the Facebook wall everyone is familiar with and it puts all of the data around customers in one place to give executives real-time insight into what customer satisfaction levels are like and it reduces the cost of having to merge 70 different systems.

“That’s a compelling example of how big data technology can be used to ease the everyday big data challenges businesses face and their ability to try and solve problems quickly.”

How MongoDB works

Schireson said the technology avoids the challenge of trying to build apps against data sets in relational databases that were built in a different era and just pulls the data together in a way that saves months of development time.

“Big data is a different challenge to building apps that thousands or millions of people may interact with on a daily or weekly basis. This is something that works inside and outside the business and gathers information from the cloud, traditional servers and mainframes, the internet and a lot of other places.

“What we do is make it very easy for a company to figure out what they want to build using what they already have and just do it very quickly, resulting in a system that ordinary executives can interact with. MetLife had the challenge of getting key information from 70 different systems to executives all over the world and put it in one place and it overcame that challenge.”

According to Schireson, 10gen is growing sales at a rate of 300pc a year as companies all over the world, especially in Europe, work to transform traditional systems into real-time insight.

“One of the reasons we chose Ireland for our European headquarters was the existing penetration of MongoDB in the local ecosystem and because of that we knew that the skill sets we need are within reach. This was obvious to us before we selected Dublin.

“The initial plan was 60 people in the first five years and we are already running ahead of that and I actually believe we’ll get to 150 in five years and in 10 years 500 people.”

Schireson said other technology giants, such as IBM, are working to integrate MongoDB into their technology stack which will open up more opportunities to grow big data.

“There is a lot of momentum right now and we are growing very quickly globally. As a result, we expect the Dublin office to continue to grow quickly. This is great news for the local economy as we play our own small part in creating jobs.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 9 June

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years