SQL or NoSQL – understanding the underlying issues

I tried recently to explain how it is not one or the other: SQL, NoSQL once again is not the question, the choice to be made. But instead, it is the the underlying issues which has to be understood and used to drive your choice.

  • Ability to scale

If you’re application can’t serve any longer its users, whatever how good and smart it used to work it is no longer working ….. So scaling, trough the techniques  of clustering,sharding and distributed process had become a must. One requirement that few RDBMS have been able to implement. Obviously the historical reasons, the old ways, are responsible: traditionally the SQL database was running on a single machine (one single big server with the biggest cpu available and all the RAM you could have afford). Before scaling solutions were made available, performance issue tried to be solved using cache techniques(memcached was created in 2003) but is all the same problem, if your application and service stop to serve its users it is game over.

  • ACID – transactional database

Most application does not need to support transaction, the ability  for a single process to perform multiple data-manipulation and finally enforce this set of operations or cancel them all, at any step, those rolling back to the initial data situation(before your program starts). Such feature, is available for all programs(and related instance) accessing a database concurrently. Such magic and complex set of features ensure to provide so called consistency and integrity. As I said, most application does not need to support transaction. Most NoSQL databases are non-ACID and does not support transaction.

  • Data model

Traditional RDBMS have relied on the relational models which can be overly restrictive. A strong relational models, when modelling complex data, requires skills and time to be created, maintained and documented(in view of knowledge transfer). In practice the relational data model will limit your future development since you can’t easily change a relational models. The NoSQL solution provides different data structure such as document,graph and key-value which enable non-relational data models. To make a long story short ,the data model (relational or not) will not ease your designs (still highly critical) but it will eventually ease its implementations.


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