The Relational Database Dance
For the past few decades, the relational database has been the dominant model for database management. But non-relational — the “cloud” or NoSQL option — is gaining ground now, as a strong, viable alternate as businesses see that a relational database model may not be the best solution for all.
It cannot be ignored: choosing SQL or NoSQL to manage your database is important. If your data matters, then it also matters which query language is applied to your databases. You cannot afford to leave it to the IT experts alone.
Each has its strengths and weaknesses, its benefits and drawbacks for your enterprise. So which one is best? That depends on what you need it to do.
Because there are benefits and drawbacks to each, companies like Google offer developer products for both SQL and NoSQL. They’ll duke it out within their own company on the benefits of each of their database management models. When competitors battle, you get an honest comparison of pros and cons.
Which DB Fits Our Application?
SQL has long been the standard. Using it gives you access to the whole collection of platforms that were built to work with relational databases. These platforms will always work better out of the box with your standard SQL management tool. It does a couple things especially well. The alternative, NoSQL, has its own set of characteristics.
Here’s a breakdown of the most important features in database management, and how each answers the problem.
Queries: SQL supports a growing subset languages for queries, as well as a wide range of filters, sorting options, and projections and index queries. NoSQL does all this as well, but SQL can often go beyond it, allowing powerful aggregations of your data as well, beyond what NoSQL can do.
Transactions: Transactions are important because they ensure that you have atomically made changes to your database. Many NoSQL platforms don’t support transactions, so be aware of this feature when you’re figuring out which to use, and what your own needs are.
Consistency: MySQL platforms often use a single master to guarantee strong consistency in your database. These use synchronous replication to ensure you don’t lose important changes queued up to the master. NoSQL, by contrast, does replication of entity groups without a master, so that data is strong within an entity group, and is eventually updated across all groups. The better option depends on the constraints and needs of your database.
Scalability: For years, database administrators relied on scaling up, buying bigger servers as database load increased. However, as transaction rates and demands on the databases continue to expand immensely, emphasis is on scaling out instead. Scaling out is distributing databases across multiple hosts, and that’s something NoSQL does better than standard SQL. They’re designed for optimal use on scaled out databases.
Management: NoSQL databases are generally designed to require less management overall. Repairs are often automatic, and data distribution and simpler data models contribute to less administration required overall. However, you’ve also got less support when there’s a problem. SQL platforms often have vendors waiting to supply support to enterprises.
Schema: Regular SQL platforms often have strictly enforced rules for a schema change, to stave off user-created typos that can put faults in your query. NoSQL platforms will have their own mechanisms for combating this.
Conclusion: It Depends
Overall, the best platform for you depends greatly on what you need from your database, and what kinds of queries you are demanding of your data. It also depends on what kind of database management plan you have in place, whether or not you’re seeking a renovation on its current state.
For more on NoSQL, check out this “Definitive Guide to NoSQL Databases” by Toptal’s Mohamad Altarade.