NoSQL Startup NorthScale Becomes Membase Inc.

Say goodbye to NorthScale. The Mountain View, Calif.-based NoSQL startup has officially changed its name to Membase Inc. in order to establish a tighter connection between the company’s moniker and its flagship product, the open source key-value store Membase Server.  The name change occurred along with the general availability of Membase Server, which the company also announced today.

As Om reported when the company launched earlier in the year, Membase has its share of fans. Among them are Accel Partners, Mayfield Fund and North Bridge Ventures, which have invested $15 million in the company, as well as notable users of the product Zynga, Loggly, AOL and ShareThis. Uses range from storing and serving gaming data at Zynga to collection of massive amounts of log traffic at Loggly. In the past few months, Membase Server has become a database option within the Heroku and RightScale cloud platforms.

In a crowded field of NoSQL options, Membase’s relative success is noteworthy, owing much to some technological differences from other offerings. Because Membase Server grew out of the popular memcached tool (which webscale companies like Facebook use to limit latency between their SQL databases and their web servers), it maintains familiarity for users and memcached reliability, while adding the performance benefits of a distributed key-value store. According to Membase co-founder and senior vice president James Phillips, Membase Server performs so well because the company is focused on maintaining its purity as a key-value store without adding excess functionality to the database itself.

However, the company might owe as much to its corporate structure as to its technology. As Phillips points out, sometimes customers want the proverbial throat to choke, even with an open source database. Because Membase Server is the intellectual property and source of income for the company that developed it, as opposed to being an open source project with a few startups commercializing it, customers get a next-generation product with that old-school service. Phillips, for example, tells the story of sending two support staffers to India for two weeks to help a customer get its Membase deployment live.

As for the wisdom of rebranding itself after just one product in what could become a multi-product portfolio, Phillips hopes Membase will be successful enough to face that problem some day.

Butterfly photo courtesy of Flickr user Susan E Adams.

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