Digital Transformation and Database Scalability

Today’s business systems are undergoing a revolutionary transformation to work within the digital economy. This phenomenon is known as digital transformation. There are four over-arching trends that are driving digital transformation today summarized by the acronym SMAC: social, mobile, analytics and cloud.

Mobile computing, is transforming the way most people interact with applications. Just about everybody has a smartphone, a tablet, or both. And the devices are being used to keep people engaged throughout the day, no matter where they are located. This change means that customers are engaging and interacting with organizations more frequently, from more diverse locations than ever before, and at any time around-the-clock. End users are constantly checking their balances, searching for deals, monitoring their health, and more from mobile devices. And their expectation is that they can access their information at their convenience.

Cloud computing, which is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data and applications, rather than a local host, enables more types and sizes of organizations than ever before to be able to deploy and make use of computing resources—without having to own those resources. Applications and databases hosted in the cloud need to be resilient in order to adapt to changing workloads.

And the Big Data phenomenon has boosted the amount of data being created and stored.
The amount and types of data that can be accessed and analyzed continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And when analytics is performed on data from mobile, social, and cloud computing, it becomes more accessible and useful by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

All of these trends have caused organizations to scale their database implementations and environments to accommodate data and workload growth. But how can databases be scaled?

Well, at a high level, there are two types of database scalability: vertical scaling and horizontal scaling.

Vertical scaling , also known as scaling up, is the process of adding resources, such as
memory or more powerful CPUs to an existing server. Removing memory or changing to a less powerful CPU is known as scaling down.

Adding or replacing resources to a system typically results in performance gains, but to realize such gains can require reconfiguration and downtime. Furthermore, there are limitations to the amount of additional resources that can be applied to a single system, as well as to the software that uses the system.

Vertical scaling has been a standard method of scaling for traditional RDBMSs that are architected on a single-server type model. Nevertheless, every piece of hardware has limitations that, when met, cause further vertical scaling to be impossible. For example, if your system only supports 256 GB of memory when you need more memory you must migrate to a bigger box, which is a costly and risky procedure requiring database and application downtime.

Horizontal scaling , sometimes referred to as scaling out, is the process of adding more
hardware to a system. This typically means adding nodes (new servers) to an existing system. Doing the opposite, that is removing hardware, is known as scaling in.

With the cost of hardware declining, it can make sense to adopt horizontal scaling  using low-cost commodity systems for tasks that previously required larger computers, such as mainframes. Of course, horizontal scaling can be limited by the capability of software to exploit networked computer resources and other technology constraints. And keep in mind that traditional database servers cannot run on more than a few machines. Scaling is limited, in that you are scaling to several machines, not to 100x or more.

Horizontal and vertical scaling can be combined, with resources added to existing servers to scale vertically and additional servers added to scale horizontally when required. It is wise to consider the tradeoffs between horizontal and vertical scaling as you consider each approach.

Horizontal scaling results in more computers networked together and that will cause increased management complexity. It can also result in latency between nodes and complicate programming efforts if not properly managed by either the database system or the application. Vertical scaling can be less costly; it typically costs less to reconfigure existing hardware than to procure and configure new hardware. Of course, vertical scaling can lead to overprovisioning which can be quite costly. At any rate, virtualization perhaps can help to alleviate the costs of scaling.

 

About craig@craigsmullins.com

I'm a strategist, researcher, and consultant with nearly three decades of experience in all facets of database systems development.
This entry was posted in Big Data, DBMS, digital transformation, scalability. Bookmark the permalink.

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