The best practice guide to database scalability excellence

We’ve spoken before on our blog about the importance of database scalability to modern businesses. Companies can quite easily be held back by rigid databases and server setups, leading to higher costs, difficulty with future business, and reduced scope for further growth.

In this article, we’ll be looking at best practice for businesses currently, or in the planning stage of upgrading their IT infrastructure and moving towards greater scalability. From adequate testing and planning to putting the right tools and procedures in place, these tips should help you to transition smoothly into a scalable way of working and give your business the edge going forwards.

Here are our top best practices for database scalability:

Capacity Planning

One of the key reasons for a business using scalable technology is the continued growth in both database size and the number of instances needed.

Best practice for transitioning to a more scalable infrastructure is to properly analyse and plan out your capacity, both in terms of storage, performance, capability, redundancy and other resources. This means both looking at the required capacity of your servers today and in the future, and planning your new systems around that. Think about how much expansion you expect your business to experience in the coming years too, and plan accordingly – choosing both infrastructure and software that suit your requirements.

A lack of proper planning at this point could cost you in the future. Low resource capacity could lead to you needing to undergo this process again in the coming years, bringing more cost and disruption to your company.

Security First

Security should be a priority for any team looking at improving or expanding their businesses server equipment and databases.

From encryption and certification concerns through to full user access controls, it’s important that your team is able to maintain complete control over your database’s security at all times.

Key to this is having the right tools in place that allow complete controls over your database instances and will integrate with Active Directory and/or Kerberos. A strong role-based and/or group based access control regime will facilitate secure access to your data. It is possible that the existing tools you have in place, those used for managing a smaller database farm, won’t scale with the higher number of instances and users that you are now planning for – so don’t overlook a potential upgrade of your tools.

Adequate Monitoring

Just as with the security tools mentioned above, it’s vital that you consider putting the right monitoring tools in place during your scalable transition.

Monitoring tools are about more than just resource tracking – though that is a big feature. Having tools capable of monitoring across thousands of instances will also give you access to health checks, report production, real-time alerts and statistics, and load and performance data that will give you valuable insights necessary for performance optimisation, server consolidation, Oracle/SQL Server license optimisation and other procedures that should be considered routine in larger environments.

Again, it’s important to check whether you’re using tools that will work with your new systems. Many database monitoring tools aren’t able to monitor the large number of instances required by modern businesses, and some are tied to particular platforms or versions, restricting your options for growth in the future.

Whatever stage of your scalability journey you’re at – whether you’re only now at the planning phase or the transition is already in progress – these tips should help your business to move to a secure, reliable and scalable database in the future.

How database monitoring tools can help assess your need for DB expansion

Databases and IT systems are the backbone of most businesses today – businesses of any size in any industry. From tracking transactions to hosting online services and storing business information, database servers are used for countless vital parts of companies, and business can grind to a halt if they’re not properly maintained and supported.

A key part of managing a company database system is knowing when it’s time to expand or adjust your system – whether that means growing the number of instances that you operate, changing the platform you work on or making other structural changes.

To know when it’s time to make those changes, and to see whether your business could benefit from IT infrastructure expansion, DBAs need to make use of database monitoring tools. With the right tools, IT staff can see at a glance what is holding their system back and put a plan in place to improve their services.

Here are just some of the ways in which database monitoring tools can help you to assess your need for database server expansion.

Real-time Alerts

A key part of any great database monitoring solution is a real-time alert system. Capable of alerting you and your team to system outages, usage spikes, poor performance or other issues, alerts give you the means to adopt a proactive approach to monitoring, to see exactly what areas of your system are falling behind and what effect that is having on your business. By configuring tools to monitor the weaknesses in your system, you can receive alerts to prompt action and to warn you of any impending problems. With the data that these alerts provide, you can then put a plan in place to make sure that problem doesn’t occur again. If the solution you have allows it, you can even extend your plan to include custom tasks to be scheduled to run whenever required, thereby achieving more automation and consistency in future.

Resource and Usage Monitoring

One of the most important jobs of any database tool is resource monitoring, whether virtual, cloud based, or otherwise, and this forms the basis of the alerts and reports mentioned elsewhere in this article. By keeping an active log of resource usage, including disk space and performance, CPU and memory usage, and other variables too, you can identify any bottlenecks and areas due for upgrade.

When looking for a solution to help you with database monitoring, it’s important to choose one that is compatible with all of the systems that you use. Scalable tools from dbWatch can work across thousands of instances and support a wide range of platforms and versions, making them a great choice for resource monitoring on large, varied systems.

Database System Reports

In addition to real-time alerts, reports and longer-term logs produced by monitoring tools can be invaluable when assessing your database’s performance.

By producing reports that look at your usage and performance statistics, and server usage over a certain period of time, your team can properly assess the need for expansion. Times of day or week of heavy usage can be identified and capacity increased to compensate, and weaker parts of your infrastructure can be noted and replaced.

Reports backed up with facts and figures can also help DBAs to make a stronger case for investment into IT systems, providing a real-world example of how improved server systems could benefit the business.

Database monitoring solutions can be invaluable for determining the need for database server expansion. With the right tools in place, you can receive real-time and long-term views of performance and usage and put plans in place to improve the areas of your system to best support your business.

What is meant by horizontal and vertical database scalability?

Database server scalability is a common practice in use by IT departments today to help them cope with ever-growing databases and server requirements.

As data requirements grow, the number of server instances in use by businesses explodes, and the importance of stable and reliable IT systems increase, it’s no longer possible for businesses to cope with rigid, non-scalable systems and tools.

Making your database servers and solutions scalable isn’t necessarily a simple task, however, and there are two main variations of server scalability to take into account. In this article, we’ll outline the differences, pros and cons of horizontal and vertical scaling.

Horizontal Scaling

“Scaling out”, or Horizontal Scaling is the practice of adding more instances or servers, to spread out databases on more machines to deal with low capacity or increased demand”. When more capacity is needed in a system, DBAs can simply add more machines to keep up. In database terms, this means that data is often partitioned across the many machines that make up the cluster, with each individual server holding one part of the whole database. “Horizontally scaled servers can also make use of data replication, whereby one machine holds a primary copy of the entire database while the multiple other copies are used for read-only load.”

Horizontal scaling has several advantages over a vertical approach, particularly in terms of cost. Not only is establishing a scalable system easier this way, with individual nodes being cheaper than in a vertical set-up, but upgrades are also quicker and more affordable. Maintenance can be easier too, with faulty instances quickly switched out with minimal disruption to the rest of the system.

Conversely, a high number of instances adds complexity to a system, which can make monitoring, administration and troubleshooting harder and can increase recovery time from disasters. Licencing fees can also be much higher under a horizontal system if machined are licensed individually, and the physical space needed to house multiple servers can also bring cost and logistical issues.

Vertical Scaling

Vertical scaling, or “scaling up”, involves adding more resources to a smaller number of server instances – the opposite approach to a horizontal system. Through increasing CPU resources, memory and storage or network bandwidth, performance of every individual node can be improved, scaling even the smallest servers to handle large databases.

Compared to horizontally scaled servers, this offers the advantage of being much easier to establish and administer – as it is just a small number of machines, or even just one. Vertical systems can also offer advantages in terms of stability, reliability and development, and cost savings through being suitable for smaller data centres and licence costs being lower.

Vertically scaled systems do come with some disadvantages though. Not only can initial hardware costs be high due to the need for high-end hardware and virtualisation, but upgrades can be both expensive and limited – there is, after all, only so much you can add to one machine before it is still outgrown by your database. Normally clustering like Always On or RAC is applied to these large servers to make them reliable and with enough capacity to handle the load.

You may also find yourself quickly ‘locked-in’ to a particular database vendor by following this strategy, and moving away from that vendor later could mean very expensive server upgrades.

As database requirements continue to grow, your organisation will need to adopt a form of scalability in order to keep up. While horizontal scaling is widely considered to be the modern, flexible approach, and certainly does have some advantages, it can bring some unwanted complexity into your IT infrastructure.

Vertical scalability brings complexity, horizontal scalability brings logistical challenges. In either case good tools for monitoring, analysis and administration can reduce the challenges and help you deliver greater productivity and performance and keep costs in check.

The approach that you choose will depend on your business’s requirements, but whichever you opt for will help your business to continue growing and to keep up with ever-expanding databases.