System Design, Infrastructure

Database Scaling

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Vertical scaling

Also known as scaling up, is the scaling done by adding more power to an existing machine (CPU, RAM, Disk, etc.).

There are some powerful database servers. You can get DB servers which 24TB of RAM and that powerful DB can handle lots of data.

However, vertical scaling comes up with some serious drawbacks

  • You can add more CPU, RAM, etc. But these are some hardware limits. A single server is not enough if you have a large user base.
  • Greater risk of Single Point of Failure (SPOF).
  • The overall cost of vertical scaling is high. Powerful servers are much more expensive.

Horizontal scaling

Also known as Sharding, it is a practice of adding more servers. Sharding separates large databases into smaller ones, more easily managed parts called shards. Each shard shares the same schema, though the actual data on each shard is unique to the shard.

Data can be partitioned into shards in many ways. User data can also be allocated to the database server based on user ID. Anytime you access data, a hash function is used to find the corresponding shard. In our example user_id % 4 is used as a hash function. If the request equals 0. Shard 0 is used to store & fetch data. If the result is equal to 1, shard 1 is used. The same logic applied to another shard.

  • Sharding key: The most important factor to consider when implementing a sharding strategy is the choice of sharding key. The sharding key (also known as a partition key) consists of one or more columns that determine how data is distributed. user_id is the sharding key in the previous example.
  • Sharding is a great technique to scale the database, but it is far from a perfect solution. It introduces complexities and new challenges to the system.
  • Resharding data: it’s needed when
    1. Single shard could not hold data due to rapid growth.
    2. Certain shards might experience shard exhaustion faster than others due to uneven data distribution. When shard exhaustion happens, it requires updating a sharding function and moving data around.
    3. Consistent Hashing: is commonly used to solve this problem.
  • Celebrity Problem: This is also called the hotspot key problem. exercise access to a specific shard could only cause server out-load. Imagine data for Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, and Lady Gaga all end up in the same shard. For social media, that shard will be overwhelmed with the reading operation. To solve this problem, we may need to allocate a shard for each celebrity. Each shard might need a function partition.
  • Join and de-normalization: Once a database has been sharded across multiple servers, it is hard to perform join operations across database shards. A common workaround is to denormalize the database so that queries can be performed in a single table.


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Have a wonderful day.
Abhishek 🙏

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