Distributed SQL Databases

One of the challenges that SQL Server, and many RDBMSes, face is scaling out. While SQL Server can grow to handle a large workload on one piece of hardware, eventually there reaches a point when a single machine cannot handle the workload.

Microsoft is trying to handle this with some new tricks. We have the Hyperscale editions of Azure SQL Database and Big Data Clusters, on premise. I don’t know that either of these will end up providing us with scale out for our OLTP databases, but they are options.

There are other options. Google has Spanner, which is a distributed SQL database and CockroachDB has attracted some attention. I caught an article that talks about some of the reasons you might look at CockroachDB, which is a cloud system, but one that gives you scale, and perhaps more importantly, lack of lock-in with a cloud vendor.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of a distributed, scalable SQL database, but I do know that scaling one table, with lots of concurrent access, can be tricky. There are improvements in bandwidth and technology that might allow things to scale well, but I can’t help but think that conflict resolution will be a challenge if many people need to write to the same rows.

I also know that often we aren’t writing to the same rows, but to the same table. Distributing that is easier, but when we start to look at lots of tables with referential integrity, I wonder how scalable this is. After all, the data needs to get committed and then written to multiple places for this to work well.

The one advantage in the cloud is throwing hardware at problems like this, often in a more cost effective way than an organization can do in their own data center. Whether this works well remains to be seen, but certainly there are customers and investors that see this as a part of the future.

Steve Jones

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Editor, SQLServerCentral
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