SQL database vs NoSQL: Which one is right for your business?

Blog image

Any business comes to the point where it needs to establish a rigorous database for its data management. Choosing the right data structure is an important decision, as it will affect your tech stack and related decisions a lot along the way. It’s also something you should do beforehand, as migrating to a different structure isn’t the simplest task. There are dozens of solutions for database management available out there, but most fall under two major categories: relational (SQL) and non-relational (NoSQL) databases.

A brief history of SQL and NoSQL databases

In 1970 Edgar Codd, a computer scientist from IBM, published a paper outlining the model for relational databases. It was a major breakthrough and the first serious theoretical model for already emerging data storage systems. A few years after the publication, IBM developed the first implementation of this system, which later turned into SQL (Structured Query Language), a de facto standard for relational database management. Relational database systems can be very complex, but SQL provided an easy-to-understand language for database management.

The relational databases are efficient, but they have a problem with scalability. With the advent of the internet in the 1990s, the amount of information began to grow exponentially. The classic relational databases couldn’t fully support the increasing volume and new data types. A new solution was required, and non-relational databases became one. The term “NoSQL” (Not only SQL) was first coined by Carlo Strozzi in 1998 to describe his database that didn’t rely on SQL. The term resurfaced again in 2009 in its current meaning to describe non-relational databases. Since then, non-relational databases have been growing in popularity, especially since they are better at managing unstructured Big Data.

Pros and cons of SQL-based databases

Relational database management systems (RDBMSs) are systems that use SQL. They are highly organized and structured systems, with the major benefit of having over 40 years’ worth of infrastructure and knowledge behind it.

The main advantages of RDBMs are:

Ease of use

SQL is an accessible language that doesn’t require strong programming skills to use.

Great support and infrastructure

SQL is an established standard. The majority of software solutions out there integrate well with SQL-based systems.

Reliable and consistent

The data is stored in a database in the exact way you originally structured it. These databases are reliable and stable, making sure your data is protected from loss.

However, RDBMs have certain drawbacks too:

Poor scaling

SQL databases are vertically scaled, meaning you need to increase the storage capacity or processing power of the server to increase the size of the database. It’s an expensive process.

Rigid data structures

Certain inflexibility is the source of some benefits of SQL, but it can also be a drawback. Rigid structures mean you should plan your structure carefully in advance, as it won’t be easy to change it.

MySQL is free and open-source database management system. It’s secure and reliable, making it a great choice for businesses that need a robust database management system on a budget.

Speed of processing

The bigger relational databases grow, the slower they can become. In most cases, it’s not very noticeable, but for huge databases, it can become a trouble.

The most popular SQL-based databases

Being a developed standard, there are many SQL-based solutions on the market. The most popular are:

MySQL

MySQL is free and open-source database management system. It’s secure and reliable, making it a great choice for businesses that need a robust database management system on a budget.

Oracle Database

Created in the late 70s, Oracle is one of the oldest database management systems available. It is a very popular choice for companies who are willing to spend money on an advanced solution.

PostgeSQL

Dubbed as “The world’s most advanced open-source relational database,” PostgreSQL remains one of the most popular free open-source RDBMs. On the downside, it can be difficult to configure and manage.

Among other popular RDBMs are Microsoft SQL Server, MariaDB, IBM DB2, and SQLite.

Pros and cons of NoSQL-based databases

If your business works with a large amount of unstructured data from different sources, then NoSQL database is your best bet. These databases have very flexible data structures, such as key-value, graph, document, or column-family. The flexibility and scalability of NoSQL databases ensured the fast growth of their popularity.

The main benefits of NoSQL-based databases are:

Exceptional scalability

MySQL is free and open-source database management system. It’s secure and reliable, making it a great choice for businesses that need a robust database management system on a budget.

Oracle Database

Created in the late 70s, Oracle is one of the oldest database management systems available. It is a very popular choice for companies who are willing to spend money on an advanced solution.

PostgeSQL

NoSQL databases are scaled horizontally, meaning you can fragment data and add new servers, making the entire process easier and cheaper.

Flexible data schemas

Unlike SQL databases, NoSQL solutions don’t require very careful advance planning and preparation. It’s much easier to update and change the whole system “on the go.”

Great for supporting "big data"

A major benefit of these databases is how well they support modern “big data” solutions. If you’re planning on implementing data science initiatives in your business, the choice is obvious.

Faster queries

NoSQL databases tend to be faster than their RDBMs counterparts. There’s no need to normalize the data, so you don’t have to join different tables.

As usual, any system has its list of drawbacks, and NoSQL is no different:

Poor ACID implementation

ACID compliance means that a database system satisfies a set of rules: atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability. Lack of ACID compliance makes NoSQL slightly less reliable.

Data duplication

NoSQL databases are optimized for speed, which enables a certain level of data duplication. This makes an average NoSQL database larger than a SQL-based system.

Lack of tools and support

NoSQL is still an immature technology. There’s a lack of support and information available, and not all technologies work well with NoSQL systems.

Popular NoSQL-based databases

There are fewer NoSQL-based solutions on the market. But being a fast-growing technology, we should expect to see more of them in the future.

MongoDB

MongoDB is one of the most popular NoSQL databases out there. It’s fast and easy to use. Companies like eBay, Coinbase, and Uber use MongoDB in their stack.

Cassandra

Cassandra is a popular open-source database that prioritizes speed above all. While it may lack reliability (making it a poor choice for sensitive niches like healthcare or banking), it is perfect for handling enormous amounts of data (great for entertainment and social media sites). It is used by companies such as Facebook, Spotify and Netflix.

HBase

An open-source, highly scalable database system. HubSpot and Pinterest use it as their database of choice.

Other options for NoSQL databases include ElasticSearch, Amazon’s DynamoDB, Couchbase, Redis, and IBM Cloudant.

Choosing the right database architecture may sound like a daunting task, and it often is. But once you have a basic understanding of your current needs and the direction you want to go with your business, it becomes easier to make a choice.

Share