Ex-Facebookers launch MemSQL to make your database fly

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With Facebook engineers, it appears the high-performance database apple doesn’t far fall from the tree. On Monday, former Facebookers Eric Frenkiel and Nikita Shamgunov (who also spent six years as a senior engineer on Microsoft SQL Server) launched a startup called MemSQL that seeks to speed relational databases by taking a page out of the Facebook playbook. The company has raised a $5 million in venture capital thus far from First Round Capital, IA Ventures, NEA, SV Angel, Y Combinator, Paul Buchheit, Ashton Kutcher, Max Levchin and Aaron Levie.

As its name implies, MemSQL achieves its fast performance in part by keeping data in memory, but it doesn’t use memcached like Facebook does to keep its massive MySQL deployment up to speed. Rather, MemSQL takes a lesson learned from HipHop — Facebook’s tool for converting PHP code into faster C++ — and converts SQL to C++.

“This is like HipHop for SQL, essentially,” Frenkiel told me during a recent call. All told, he claims MemSQL performs up to 30 times faster than disk-based databases. “If you make money off your data and you actually measure time in microsecond or milliseconds,” he said, “then using a lightning fast DB like ours makes a lot of sense.”

Speed aside, the best part about MemSQL for developers is that, unlike memcached, it plays nice with MySQL. MemSQL uses a SQL interface and the MySQL API, Frenkiel explained, which means no management issues and no having to learn anything new. Essentially, MemSQL acts as the high-performance in-memory tier, while data requiring less performance and more durability sits on disk in MySQL. If you’re sharding the database by putting the newest data on the newest shard, he said, you don’t even have to change your sharding strategy.

Of course, MemSQL isn’t the only startup around claiming better-than-ever SQL performance and featuring a founding team with serious database street cred. There’s a whole slew of so-called NewSQL startups including VoltDB, NuoDB, ScaleBase, Tokutek, JustOneDB and Clustrix that claim to help relational databases scale and perform better than MySQL and at prices far less than options such as Oracle Database.

MemSQL is the second data-focused startup with Facebook roots to launch this month. Earlier in June, two former Facebook employees who help create the SQL-like Hive interface for Hadoop while at the social network launched Qubole, a hosted version of Hive that runs on Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure.

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