SQL vs. NoSQL – which is right for your business?

Big data and the massive amounts of information you gather call for a different type of storage system. The NoSQL movement is great for big data, but is it right for your systems? The latest and greatest is not always best for business, and SQL has been around for decades handling relational database transactions. SQL databases with millions of records can manage most transactions flawlessly, so is it worth moving towards a NoSQL system?

Relational Databases and SQL

When you hear the term “SQL versus NoSQL,” the phrase is typically used improperly. SQL is the language used to insert, edit and return data from a database system. The “SQL versus NoSQL” movement is actually a relational versus non-relational database argument.

So what is the difference? If you’ve ever designed a simple relational database design (Oracle, MSSQL Server or MySQL), you probably know that each table must contain a primary key. Tables are then linked together with foreign keys mapped to these primary keys. Database design and architecture are beasts on their own, and a poor design can, for all intents and purposes, kill an application. A poor database can take minutes and even hours to return a dataset where the same database implemented properly returns the same dataset in seconds.

NoSQL offers a different setup. NoSQL uses the concept of documents, and these documents are linked using IDs, but there are no relational constraints. As you can guess, fewer constraints mean it’s more convenient to store data. Some NoSQL databases use simple key-value pairs in a record set. With NoSQL, you can use several storage standards without the limitations of SQL, which makes it more scalable with better performance. However, with fewer constraints, you also risk an increase in data corruption and improperly linked data.

So Should You Move to NoSQL?

Not every new system needs NoSQL, and the scalability and convenience also leads to poor implementation. NoSQL is used for large amounts of data, because it has a dynamic schema. Companies can store any amount of data without the hassle of schema limitations. The data can then be retrieved and manipulated in a myriad of ways that allows for faster, more efficient reports.

If you already have SQL as a back-end data provider, it’s not necessarily worth the switch to NoSQL. While NoSQL is efficient for big data, most companies don’t use big data. SQL can handle millions of records without a performance risk. Even if you currently have performance issues, the problem could be a simple index addition or a more efficient SQL statement in your stored procedure.

SQL has its limitations, but NoSQL is still not well understood by most software developers. The dynamic and convenient use can actually cause issues if coders use NoSQL without fully understanding how to implement it properly.

Overall, NoSQL is not a necessity for most companies unless the company stores massive amounts of data such as Google or Amazon. With the right software engineering team, you can develop applications that are right for your business whether it’s NoSQL or SQL.

If your SQL database is working for you, then keep it. If you plan to store terabytes or petabytes of data, it might be time for NoSQL.


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