Databases in Details: How to Choose the Right One?

These days databases are far more than just rows and columns. No matter what type of business you are running, you'll need some way of storing data that you've already gathered. In today's world of database technologies there are two major database types: SQL and NoSQL.

Relational database management systems (RDBMS) (e.g., SQL) have been the go-to solution and dominated the industry for decades.  However, due to increasing data volume and diversity, the demand for processing and storing readings is constantly growing and at a swift rate. As an alternative solution for database management and way to house unstructured and diverse data, NoSQL (non-relational) databases are now gaining popularity. 

Choosing a SQL or NoSQL database

SQL and NoSQL: What's the Difference?

CriteriaSQLNoSQLData Storage ModelsRecords are stored in rows and columns, similar to spreadsheets. Certain data types are kept in separate columns and then merged, while fulfilling complex requests.  Storage model depends on database type. Major methods are: columnar, key-value, document with nest structure (JSON, XML, etc.) and graph. Schema and FlexibilityStructure is fixed in advance. Data types are predetermined for each column. If table structure is changed, the entire DB must be altered and, in the meanwhile, stay offline. Structure is typically dynamic. Information can be added instantly and heterogeneous data can be saved together if needed. ScalabilitySQL databases should be scaled vertically. More data means that a single server must be made increasingly powerful to cope with a growing demand. Otherwise, scaling DB across various servers is a time-consuming process that requires additional engineering.NoSQL DBs should be scaled horizontally by nature, that is across servers (commodity servers or cloud instances). While some non-relational technologies distribute data automatically.  

Tips on How to Choose the Right Database for Your Application

  • Decide on the right data model

No matter what type of database you are considering, take into account that each database is developed for its particular type of workload. If you mainly work with single-file database and there is no need in cross search or data retrieval, then non-relational model are a good choice. Moreover, NoSQL databases work better for large amounts of data with little or even no structure.

The need to allocate particular entities (like country, city, company name, etc.) isn't a cause for moving from NoSQL to SQL. But, in the meantime, as soon as items in different collections become linked, it is advisable to consider relational databases.

On the other hand, let's assume that there is a complex structure of relations between entities and a new entity (e.g. product) is introduced. Each new entity can have different criteria (price, color, weight, etc.) that are unique for each specific product or group of items. Streamlining the workflow it is possible to create a separate grid with various criteria and columns to fit all, but obviously that different entities have different critical data, so many cells will be empty and in result the grid will turn out to be inefficient.  

How to choose the right database

  • Consider how the data will be used

SQL databases are strongly-typed: data load and parsing can take up a lot of time, but on the flipside data extraction is done at an easy rate. With NoSQL everything is quite the contrary. In other words, before opting for a particular database type, consider both reads and writes. For instance, SQL is better for analytics and data reading, but NoSQL ensures rapid development, as it allows frequent updates to data structure without much downtime between versions.   

However, there are still lots of cases that require custom solutions. For example, company mainly works with single document database, but analysis department needs all the data from time to time – how to reach a compromise? As an option, company can build data mart that will load records on schedule, store data, and provide it when needed.

Alternately, if entities are sorted by corresponding parameters and, as a result, they can be categorized by particular criteria, then company can create vertical split with fixed options or hierarchical structure. In such cases companies can use additional tools, provided by databases (e.g. PostgreSQL offers JSON Functions and Operators, while SQL Server comprises XML ones, and so on). 


Deciding on a database is just the first step because still there are lots of cases that require individual approach and custom solutions. While it may be easy to manage a standard single-file database, both SQL and NoSQL databases can get extremely challenging, so you'll need to hire an experienced database architect. DA-14 offers a wide range of web development and consulting services to build and maintain your database systems and streamline the development processes. 
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