Database Research Pioneer Michael Stonebraker

July 18, 2011

I just received an update from data base research and technology pioneer Michael Stonebraker and will be using insights from the conversation to inform a few coming posts here at

I just received an update from data base research and technology pioneer Michael Stonebraker and will be using insights from the conversation to inform a few coming posts here at (including a coming one on his newest pursuit, VoltDB), but first wanted to provide a digital introduction to Michael.

I first met him in 2005, but had heard of him for years before. Michael has a history of thinking through the hard problems in data and then creating projects, prototypes and then capabilities to address hard problems. He is also skilled at moving capabilities all the way to market and has changed the enterprise technology ecosystem by helping create a number of database companies including IngresIllustra, Cohera, StreamBase SystemsVertica, and now VoltDB.

Although those were the direct contributions to the ecosystem Michael made, his students have gone on to found many other database companies, from Sybase to Cloudera. Students of Michael Stonebaker, from the Wikipedia entry on him, include:

He Really has changed the world.

Michael is enthused and excited about making positive change in the world and that enthusiasm is infectious. One of his better qualities is an ability to explain what he is doing in plain english so non-database experts can understand the significance of his work. This is a skill he has honed over years of interactions with business and mission leaders. He is also an accomplished teacher and educator, having held positions at Berkeley and MIT (and lecturing at many other great institutions around the country).

Here is a bit more from his MIT bio:


Michael Stonebraker has been a pioneer of data base research and technology for more than a quarter of a century. He was the main architect of the INGRES relational DBMS, the object-relational DBMS, POSTGRES, and the federated data system, Mariposa. All three prototypes were developed at the University of California at Berkeley where Stonebraker was a Professor of Computer Science for twenty five years. He is the founder of three successful Silicon Valley startups, whose objective was to commercialize these prototypes.

Professor Stonebraker is the author of scores of research papers on data base technology, operating systems and the architecture of system software services. He was awarded the prestigious ACM System Software Award in 1992, for his work on INGRES. Additionally, he was awarded the first annual Innovation award by the ACM SIGMOD special interest group in 1994, and has been recognized by Computer Reseller News as one of the top five software developers of the century. Moreover, Forbes magazine named him one of the 8 innovators driving the Silicon Valley wealth explosion during their 80th anniversary edition in 1998. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1998 and is presently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at M.I.T.

Please consider all the above as a preamble to a future post being polished up now, a piece on the latest contribution to the ecosystem of Michael, VoltDB. There are so many choices and solutions and companies in the data space now, but something sets this one apart.

Note: Like many other great computer science stories there is drama here too. Stonebreaker has openly taken on some real powers in the Big Data world and done things few of us would ever dare, like criticize what is regarded as the greatest scaled data systems in the globe. I’ll provide a bit more on this drama in the next piece on VoltDB.