How the use of a NoSQL database played a role in the snafu


Flipping an old proverb on its head, the website debacle has many fathers, at least if you follow  the finger pointing. One of those “fathers” was the choice of a NoSQL database to run parts of the site, according to the New York Times.

Since the problem-plagued rollout of, there’s been a lot of blame to go around — between the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the contractors, including CGI Federal, that had to build the site. What I hadn’t heard till now was that the choice of MarkLogic, a NoSQL database may also have played a role. According to the story:

Another sore point was the Medicare agency’s decision to use database software, from a company called MarkLogic, that managed the data differently from systems by companies like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. CGI officials argued that it would slow work because it was too unfamiliar. Government officials disagreed, and its configuration remains a serious problem.

A report in The Hill  a few weeks back quoted email from project leader Henry Chao mentioning MarkLogic in passing. To be fair, the issue seems to be that it’s harder to find database admins and other techies that know NoSQL databases inside and out whereas there’s a ton of existing expertise in SQL databases from Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.

According to Marklogic’s website, it offers the”only government-grade security NoSQL database” and healthcare is a big vertical industry for its software. Neither or CMS is listed among its reference accounts.

I’ve reached out to the company for a comment and will update when it’s forthcoming.

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