Directus Takes Aim at Database Democracy


By: Mary Jander

A small company from Brooklyn, N.Y., is looking to be a Goliath in the data management arena. Directus, once known for its open-source content management system (CMS) of the same name, has revamped its software and is taking aim at the world’s largest companies.

A bit of context: Founded in 2004, Directus was initially known as a “headless CMS,” or software that could take SQL data from a range of sources and present it in a variety of ways, not just as part of a website. (The website being the “head” of a run-of-the-mill CMS.) Over time and via the work of hundreds of open-source contributors, Directus built a reputation for its ability to sit atop multiple SQL databases, mirroring data for use in applications without changing the original databases’ schema or content.

Now, with the latest release – Directus 9 – the 18-year-old firm has removed a final barrier to the big leagues of enterprise data management. Directus 9 has been recoded in 100% JavaScript and ported to the cloud. It is available as both a free, open-source, on-premises solution or as a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS). And thanks to improved database abstraction, it can layer on top of and mirror data from a wider range of SQL databases than ever – including CockroachDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle DB, MariaDB, AWS RedShift and Aurora, etc.

“We work with any SQL database,” said Ben Haynes, cofounder and CEO of Directus. “With these new features, Directus removes barriers to accessing valuable data, providing a flexible, scalable and intuitive solution for any data-driven app or project.”

Directus 9 also adds rule-based permissions for greater security; customizable dashboards, charts, and visualization tools for SQL content; and a variety of integration and presentation options.

Why Directus Now

Despite all the improvements, why would a CIO approve the use of Directus 9? What exactly is it replacing?

“Some of our customers have twenty or thirty different data platforms,” said CEO Haynes. Getting at data for reports or applications from all those SQL sources can be a nightmare. The addition of a costly data warehouse or lake can also pose challenges. Enter Directus, which as noted layers on top of the various databases, allowing for SQL manipulation of data without changing anything already in place.

“We say you don’t have to abandon what you’re using. We democratize the data,” says Haynes.

Big Customers, Big Plans

So far, the free version of Directus has surpassed 15 million Docker downloads, according to the vendor. And there’s evidence that Directus should be able to leverage this open-source popularity into service subscriptions now that it’s cloud-native. Comcast, Stihl, TripAdvisor, Ball State University, and the Government of Canada have adopted the commercial SaaS version.

Directus has its challenges. It is limited to SQL datasets. It is up against competitors with much more funding and resources, including Contentful, which closed a $175 million round of funding in July 2021 with a valuation of $3 billion. Other contenders are Strapi, Firebase, and Hasura.

Still, Directus claims to be on its way in an expanding market that solves a big pain point for enterprise database engineers. In 2021, it took a small, undisclosed round of venture funding to grow staff and extend its product capabilities. It’s meeting with big companies. It’s entered the fast lane and is determined to stay there.