Unlock Your SQL Database with DirectusBy Directus Staff on June 2, 2022
Senior editor and writer of ActualTech, Keith Ward, recently interviewed Ben Haynes, Founder, and CEO of Directus, for his Spotlight Series. Ben provided some background and insight about the revolutionary new Open Data Platform, Directus, the first of its kind.
Keith: Why did you decide to create Directus, and what problems does it solve?
Ben: Directus actually goes back all the way to 2004. We were a digital agency building a number of disparate projects, from digital experiences to interactive installations, and everything in between. We were starting our projects with the database and then building out everything bespoke after that, which is very time-consuming. We couldn’t use traditional CMS for the websites, and we couldn't use other platforms for other types of projects – but the one commonality was the database.
Internally, our engineers were using database administration tools, such as phpMyAdmin, Sequel Pro, MySQL Workbench, and the like. Those are great for engineers but not ideal for a non-technical person, so we couldn’t hand it off to the customer. What we aimed to do was build a platform that would allow for the management, the connectivity, and the visualization of any kind of data living in any SQL database, just like a database administration tool. That is essentially what we did with Directus. We built a platform that can layer on top of any SQL database and provide a fully-featured data toolkit for engineers as well as business users.
Keith: It’s really fascinating and innovative what you have done. What tools does Directus replace?
Ben: We started out as a headless CMS, so we were competing with monolithic CMS solutions such as WordPress and Drupal, as well as more modern vendors such as Contentful. We’ve moved away from that positioning toward the concept of an Open Data Platform for managing anything in that SQL database.
Many of our customers are replacing legacy or even modern CMS platforms, as well as tools such as Hasura and Supabase, which are databases-as-a-service – essentially a database with an API layer. There are also visualization tools such as Retool and other platforms that allow non-technical users to build out some sort of visualization, whether it’s Airtable or some kind of charting experience. We were even able to use it internally to replace Datadog, so it can even be used for server analytics, as well. Directus can handle everything – from content all the way down to raw business data.
Keith: It’s amazing! There are so many use cases for Directus –really an unlimited list of use cases! Why did you decide to deliver Directus as an open-source platform, and what’s been the benefit of doing that?
Ben: It’s really powerful to have so many people using and contributing to our platform. Just last week, we passed 18 million Docker downloads. You can’t get that breadth of a user base if you have a proprietary, close-sourced system. The transparency, testing, bug reports – all of that just makes things very efficient and helps us move really quickly. Our staff is really a small subset of the team that powers Directus. We have hundreds of contributors and millions of users, and all of that makes a more robust ecosystem.
Keith: Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the use cases. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the examples of companies that have used Directus and what have they done with it?
Ben: One example would be Native Instruments, a music hardware, and software company. They use Directus for a common content management system. They are powering their digital experiences and websites with our platform. Another customer is Bose, who is using Directus for acoustic data within an IoT fleet. Within those devices, they are capturing managing, and visualizing IoT device data, not content. A third example is AT&T. They have a 40-foot digital display wall, and that feed is being funneled and delivered through our platform. To power all of these experiences, it’s really important that we remain agnostic and unopinionated in terms of what we are managing, so the data can go out to any device or just be used within Directus itself.
Keith: Very impressive! Where do you see this going in the future?
Ben: We have a lot on the data front with everything from real-time WebSockets to Data Flows, which is a very advanced automation workflow system, to put it broadly. We’re announcing this functionality in the next few weeks or months. After that, we’ll be enabling users to wrap any SQL database and move it to multiple data stores. This solves the problem of having to manage multiple SQL databases and bringing in NoSQL, file-based data stores, and so on. I think it’s really the holy grail because, with this capability, you can virtualize all of your business data across any storage approach.
Keith: I love that idea – abstracting and virtualizing the business data. What’s the pricing model?
Ben: The core platform code is available for free. There are no feature limitations or paywalls. You can go on GitHub, download the code and access the entire code base. We make that as easy as possible through Docker, NPM and cloning the GitHub repo. If you need a little more power for production projects, you can use our Standard Cloud or go all the way up to our Enterprise Cloud which provides premium support and an SLA.
Keith: I just tried it out myself and spun up a project in the cloud on Directus Cloud. It took a couple of minutes and was very easy to do. I encourage everyone to check it out and try it for themselves.
Directus is open source, so anyone can download and start using it to manage everything in a SQL database. The platform can create an API out of any SQL database, so its uses are essentially only limited by the user’s imagination. The ultimate vision for Directus is to virtualize all business data, no matter where you store it. That’s a lofty goal, but worth reaching for.
Watch the video.
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