The “Content Is Ancillary” Test

I’m going to start applying a test to new prospective customers outside Mark Logic’s core publishing and government markets. In the middle of a conversation with a senior business person I’ll stop and say something like:

“Well, you know that many leading publishers trust their content to MarkLogic. And for them, that’s a major commitment because content *is* their business. So handling your problem, where content is really ancillary to your primary business of [xyz], should be no problem for us.”

I stumbled onto this test more than a year ago, during a corporate visit by JetBlue. I uttered the seemingly innocuous statement: “obviously, flight manuals are ancillary to your primary business of flying airplanes,” only to have my head immediately bitten off, chewed up, and spit out by their then-head of flight operations.

“We fly documents, not planes,” he said. “Without the documents, the planes don’t fly!”

The same thing happened to me the other day when meeting with an information technology VP at a major financial institution. “Well, obviously, the documents we’re discussing are ancillary to your core business of doing transactions,” I said, at which point my tete was again threatened by a similar response.

“Well, it may seem to you that these documents are ancillary, but without these manuals, policies and procedures in place, then there are no transactions to worry about!”

It was, as Yogi Berra so famously said,“déjà vu all over again.”

Having learned from this accidental discovery, henceforth I’m going to make this provocation deliberate. Because if your content is sufficiently important (dare I say “mission critical”) to your operations that your business basically stops when there is problem with it, then you should probably be looking for a server to hold it that is:

  • Built for content, not data (i.e., not an relational DBMS)
  • High performance
  • Scalable to terabytes and beyond
  • Highly-available
  • Used by the companies where content is their business

For many people, stuffing content into square tables might be good enough. But for those who pass the “content is ancillary” provocation, I’d say that you should be looking at special-purpose, content-optimized systems like MarkLogic and not general-purpose DBMSs, like Oracle, DB2, or SQL Server.

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