NoSQL Databases - 10 Reasons Why You Should (Or Shouldn’t) Upgrade

| April 28, 2015

What is NoSQL? Also known as “Not Only SQL,” NoSQL is a recently developed alternative to the traditional relational database (RDBMS) that allows companies to process higher volumes of data as they execute a cloud migration strategy. However, as a relatively new system, it has both its benefits and quirks. In this article, we’ll cover 10 major aspects of NoSQL, illustrating its strengths and weaknesses compared to RDBMS.

But first a little history. For the past several decades, RDBMS has been the primary model for database management. SQL (Structured Query Language) has served as the standard programming language used to communicate with relational databases. It functions using a set of tables containing specific, structured data with predefined categories or columns such as names, email addresses, and phone numbers.

Although highly functional and effective across generations of technological advancement, as information booms on the Internet and data sources greatly vary, many companies are beginning to find the old SQL model cannot keep up. Because it’s increasingly important to a company’s competitiveness to accumulate as much data as possible from a variety of different users, it’s less ideal to rely on a structured, clunkier data system, and the more nimble and user-friendly NoSQL can help.

Which One Is Better? Comparing NoSQL and Relational Databases Side By Side

At a fraction of the cost of the SQL server model, NoSQL can store data across multiple processing nodes. The new database is promising, but is it right for you?

NoSQL Pros

When comparing relational and NoSQL databases, NoSQL stands out in several ways.

Scalability
Agile, fast, and cloud-based, NoSQL can process large amounts of information on a much bigger scale. With relational databases, database administrators (DBAs) emphasized “scaling up” to keep up with the increasing database load, but the trend now shows that “scaling out” is much more cost-effective.

When you scale up with an RDBMS, you have to buy bigger servers, which is costly with increasing transaction rates and availability requirements. However, with NoSQL, all you do is move into the cloud or virtualized environments.

Big Data
As technology makes the global market more accessible, data grows exponentially. Although RDBMS capabilities have evolved somewhat to match the accelerated data, relational databases are limiting and slow down servers. For many enterprises, they are becoming intolerable. Employing new NoSQL systems like MongoDB and Hoop allows companies to handle far greater volumes of data than even the biggest RDBMS.

Cost of Servers
Because NoSQL databases employ cheap commodity servers to handle accumulating data and increased transactions, going with the newer system is extremely cost-effective in comparison to relational databases. RDBMS relies on expensive proprietary servers and storage systems that slow down performance. The cost per gigabyte or transaction per second for NoSQL may be several times less expensive than additional RDBMS servers, allowing you enhanced scalability without hurting your bottom line.

Maintenance
RDBMS systems can only be maintained by highly trained DBAs, who are also involved in designing, implementing, and fine-tuning of the databases. Understandably, requiring high-level expertise for management can be costly and inconvenient. NoSQL databases, on the other hand, are often designed to require less management and are frequently automated for self-repair and data distribution to require lower administration resources and troubleshooting.

Flexible Data Models
One of the biggest challenges of high-volume RDBMS has been change management. Due to the structured schemas, or classifications of data, this rigidity makes it difficult to make even minor changes to the data model without encountering productivity downtime or minimized service volume.

NoSQL databases operate on barely any data model restrictions. Even BigTable-based NoSQL systems, like Cassandra and HBase, may be more defined in nature, but still allow easy creation of new columns.

Caching
NoSQL databases include an integrated caching capability that allows for increased data output and performance, as an automatic, simple feature. SQL or RDBMS only offers caching via separate infrastructure.

NoSQL Cons

Like all new developments, however, NoSQL is not without its challenges. Here are limitations to consider when choosing to replace your current RDBMS.

Stability
Basically put, RDBMS is proven. Yes, it has its quirks, but it’s a tried-and-true system that has served companies well for decades. There are no unknowns. Although NoSQL is full of promise, many databases are still in the post-production stage and need tweaking. On paper, NoSQL databases look great because of the low-admin involvement, thus helping save money and resources. However, many versions are still difficult to understand and require the help of those highly skilled in that area.

Support
Any company wants a safety net. Fortunately, RDBMS has been around a long time and relational database vendors offer extensive, reliable support. At this point, NoSQL systems are mostly open-source projects with few firms offering support for each database. Furthermore, most of the companies offering support are small start-ups without the global reach of Oracle, Microsoft, or IBM.

Expertise
In line with concerns about support and maturity of NoSQL databases, there really aren’t that many experts yet in the field of NoSQL. While developers are continually learning the system and designing NoSQL improvements, it’s still a fairly new model, which means proven experts are still limited.

Analytics
NoSQL databases are designed to meet the ever-increasing data demands of an exploding online evolution. However, beyond catering to applications, data analysis functions are limited. If a business wants to improve its efficiency and competiveness in a particular area, it’s difficult to isolate a data classification without incorporating significant programming expertise. Also, most business intelligence tools aren’t compatible with NoSQL.

With RDBMS, because the data processing has been designed around clearly separated tables of data, on-point analysis is easily achievable.

Is NoSQL For You?

Clearly, NoSQL provides many benefits that will help businesses, especially larger enterprises, expand confidently into the future. However, weigh the limitations and benefits before choosing to stay with your relational database, or replacing it with NoSQL. If you have questions about NoSQL and how it may benefit your company, contact us today.