A database allows multiple users to maintain, update, and edit stored information quickly, securely, and efficiently. That makes a database useful for a host of real-life cases such as keeping track of corporate accounting records, storing huge amounts of data from a network of IoT devices, tracking your company's inventory systems, or building a web application.
Here are our top takeaways about choosing the right database:
- Databases are essential for storing, maintaining, updating, editing, and accessing business information.
- The two main categories of databases are SQL-based and NoSQL-based.
- Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB are all popular business database solutions.
- A full understanding of your business use case for storing and editing data can help you choose the right database option.
- There are different types of modern databases available, each with a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages. This article gives you a bird's-eye view of the most popular types of modern databases.
Table of Contents
- SQL-Based vs NoSQL-Based
- Relational Database Management Systems (SQL-Based)
- Non-Relational Database Systems (NoSQL-based)
- Overview of the Most Popular Modern Database Systems
- Oracle Database
- Microsoft SQL Server
SQL-Based vs NoSQL-Based
Before diving into the most popular modern database options, it's important to understand the difference between a relational database management system (SQL database) and a non-relational database management system (NoSQL database).
Related Reading: SQL vs NoSQL - How Are They Different?
For most of the last 40 years, businesses relied on relational database management systems (RDBMSs) that used the programming language SQL.
Image source scalegrid.io.
However, NoSQL-based non-relational database management systems are becoming more popular — particularly because data scientists want to expose their machine learning business analytics tools to more unstructured data.
Relational Database Management Systems (SQL-Based)
SQL is a database management language that offers a highly organized and structured approach to information management. Similar to the way a phone book has different categories of information (name, number, address, etc.) for each line of data, relational databases apply strict, categorical parameters that allow database users to easily organize, access, and maintain information within those parameters.
The primary reasons why SQL-based RDBMSs continue to dominate are:
- They are highly stable and reliable.
- They adhere to a standard that integrates seamlessly with popular software stacks like LAMP.
- We've been using them for more than 40 years.
RDBMS advantages include the following:
- ACID compliance: If a database system is "ACID compliant," it satisfies a set of priorities that measure the atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability of database systems. The more ACID-compliant a database is, the more it serves to guarantee the validity of database transactions, reduce anomalies, safeguard data integrity, and create stable database systems. Generally, SQL-based RDBMSs are highly ACID compliant, but NoSQL databases trade some compliance for speed and flexibility when dealing with unstructured data.
- Ideal for consistent data systems: With a SQL-based RDBMS, your information remains in the structure you originally created. If you don't need a dynamic information system for massive amounts of data — and you're not dealing with numerous data types — RDBMS offers great speed and stability.
- Better support options: Because RDBMS databases have been around for over 40 years, it's easier to get support and integrate data from other systems.
RDBMS disadvantages include the following:
- Scalability challenges and difficulties with sharding: RDBMSs have a more difficult time scaling up compared to NoSQL databases. Sharding can also be a challenge. Sharding is the process of dividing a large database into smaller parts for easier management. If you're dealing with a conservative database with minimal expected growth, the challenges related to RDBMS solutions may never apply to you. If you plan to scale up and grow in the years ahead, a non-relational database system (NoSQL-based) could match your needs better.
- Less efficiency with NoSQL formats: Most RDBMSs are now compatible with NoSQL data formats, but they don't work with them as efficiently as non-relational databases.
Three of the most popular RDBMS/SQL database engines are:
Non-Relational Database Systems (NoSQL-Based)
Non-relational databases let you organize information in a looser fashion — kind of like dropping the information in different file folders. This is important for two reasons:
- You can store unstructured information and expose it to powerful business intelligence systems that will analyze it with AI algorithms.
- You can store unstructured data that you plan to structure later.
Non-relational databases also work with NoSQL formats like JSON, essential for web-based applications that let websites update "live" without needing to refresh the page.
Some non-relational DBMS advantages are:
- Excellent for handling "big data" analytics: NoSQL databases remove the bottleneck of needing to categorize and apply strict structures to massive amounts of information. NoSQL databases like HBase, Cassandra, and CouchDB support the speed and efficiency of server operations while offering the capacity to work with large amounts of data.
- No limits on types of data you can store: NoSQL databases give you unlimited freedom to store diverse types of data in the same place. This offers the flexibility to add new and different types of data to your database at any time.
- Easier to scale: NoSQL databases are easier to scale. They're designed to be fragmented across multiple data centers without much difficulty.
Some on-relational DBMS disadvantages are:
- More difficult to find support: It can be more difficult to find experienced users when you need to troubleshoot.
- Lack of tools: Since the system is relatively new compared to SQL-based RDBMS solutions, there aren't as many tools to assist with performance testing and analysis.
- Compatibility and standardization challenges: Newer NoSQL database systems also lack the high degree of compatibility and standardization offered by SQL-based alternatives.
Different Types of Non-Relational Databases
Broadly speaking, non-relational databases can be broken down into four different types:
These types of databases make data visualization easier. They are great at storing relationships between diverse data points with the help of nodes. Common examples of graph databases are Neo4j and JanusGraph.
There are schema-agnostic databases that can handle the querying of non-sequential data in real time. Common use cases for these types of databases are web analytics and analyzing data from sensors. Apache Cassandra and HBase are two of the most commonly used column stores.
These are very simple, fast database management systems that store key-value pairs. The end goal is to fetch basic data quickly. Common use cases for these types of databases are leaderboards and shopping cart data. Two of the most well-known key-value stores are Redis and Couchbase Server.
Document stores are databases with flexible schemas. These types of databases are best suited to store semi-structured data and can handle dynamic querying. Common use cases for document stores include customer data, user-generated content, and order data. MongoDB and PostgreSQL are examples of document stores.
Interestingly, most RDBMSs—like Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server—now offer NoSQL functionality. Nevertheless, non-relational DBMSs like PostgreSQL usually work better with NoSQL formats.
How To Choose the Right Type of Database
Choosing the right modern database can be confusing. Here are some factors you should keep in mind when selecting a database management system:
If atomicity is a top priority for you, stick to a relational database. Atomicity in database management promotes consistency. It rests on the principle of atomic transactions. These are a series of operations that are considered composite operations. In other words, either all operations in an atomic transaction occur or none at all.
The simplest example of an atomic transaction is transferring money from account A to account B. The balance from account A should be deducted and the requisite number should be added to account B. Both operations need to be successful for the transaction to be successful.
Vertical or Horizontal Scaling
If your data strategy rests on vertical scaling, a relational database is fine. Vertical scaling adds more compute power to a server instead of adding more servers to the system. It’s ideal when there are a limited number of users and not a lot of querying involved. In that sense, vertical scaling might be suitable for business-facing startups. The basic advantages of vertical scaling are speed and simplicity.
On the other hand, if you are expecting higher loads of users or querying, horizontal scaling is a much cheaper solution. NoSQL databases employ horizontal scaling. Instead of adding more compute power to a server, they distribute the load across servers. Horizontal scaling and, in turn, NoSQL databases, give businesses more elasticity. However, running joint operations is difficult on these systems.
If speed is more important than ACID compliance, a non-relational database is a better bet. In the case of real-time data, such as sensor data, some compromise in data integrity can be tolerated in favor of speed. In a non-relational database, each record is an independent entity. Thus, it is possible to run multiple queries simultaneously irrespective of the size of the database.
Overview of the Most Popular Modern Database Systems
If you're shopping for a DBMS, consider choosing from one of the five popular database engines below. These databases support both SQL and NoSQL data formats. However, non-relational databases — like PostgreSQL and MongoDB — tend to work better with NoSQL formats. Relational databases — like Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and MySQL — work best with purely SQL formats.
Oracle has provided high-quality database solutions since the 1970s. The most recent version of Oracle Database was designed to integrate with cloud-based systems, and it allows you to manage massive databases with billions of records. Oracle offers SQL and NoSQL database solutions.
Oracle database advantages:
- The most advanced technology: Oracle is known for being on the leading edge of database technology. They have a long-standing reputation for bringing quality, features, and innovations to their customer base.
- A wide range of solutions: Oracle offers a massive suite of tools and solutions that can address most information challenges you encounter.
Oracle database disadvantages:
- An expensive solution: Oracle tends to be a high-cost solution that smaller, non-enterprise-level organizations might not be able to afford.
- System upgrades might be required: Your current system specifications might not be enough to implement Oracle. Many businesses have to upgrade their hardware before using Oracle solutions.
Best use case for Oracle: If you’re a large organization that needs to manage a massive amount of data, Oracle could be the ideal choice.
MySQL is a free, open-source RDBMS solution that Oracle owns and manages. Even though it’s freeware, MySQL benefits from frequent security and feature updates. Large enterprises can upgrade to paid versions of MySQL to benefit from additional features and user support. Although MySQL didn't support NoSQL in the past, since Version 8, it provides NoSQL support to compete with other solutions like PostgreSQL. Read more about the differences between MySQL and PostgreSQL here.
- It’s free: As an open-source RDBMS solution, MySQL is free to use in any way you want.
- Highly compatible with other systems: MySQL has a reputation for being compatible with many other database systems.
- Missing features common to other RDBMSs: Because MySQL prioritizes speed and agility over features, you might find that it’s missing some of the standard features found in other solutions.
- Challenges in getting quality support: The free version of MySQL does not come with on-demand support. However, MySQL does have an active volunteer community, user forums, and plenty of useful documentation.
Best use case for MySQL: MySQL is a particularly valuable RDBMS solution for businesses that need a solution with enterprise-level capabilities but are operating under strict budget constraints. It’s an extremely powerful and reliable modern RDBMS with a free tier.
Microsoft SQL Server
Microsoft SQL Server is a database engine that’s compatible with on-site and cloud-based servers. Moreover, there is a Windows and a Linux version of Microsoft SQL. Microsoft also offers temporal data support. The feature is useful for querying historical data that may have changed state.
Microsoft SQL Server supports dynamic data masking, which boosts security by masking sensitive information from non-privileged users.
Microsoft SQL Server advantages:
- Mobile: This database engine allows you to access dashboard graphics and visuals via mobile devices.
- Integrates with Microsoft products: Companies that rely heavily on Microsoft products will enjoy the way SQL Server integrates easily with these applications.
- Fast: Microsoft SQL Server has built a reputation around being fast and stable.
Microsoft SQL Server disadvantages:
- Expensive: It's over $14,000 for one enterprise-level license per core. There are scaled-down licensing options for approximately $3,700 and $900, and a free version you can use to test the platform.
Best use case for Microsoft SQL Server: If you're an enterprise-level corporation that relies heavily on Microsoft products, the speed, agility, and reliability of Microsoft SQL Server could be an excellent choice.
PostgreSQL is an open-source, free database engine with unlimited scaling capabilities. PostgreSQL supports both relational and non-relational data formats.
As a highly trusted DBMS that has been around since the early 1990s, PostgreSQL has a devoted user base and has won the prestigious Database of the Year Award, twice.
An interesting feature of PostgreSQL is its history of working with both structured (SQL) and unstructured (NoSQL) data. PostgreSQL has a catalog-driven approach, which makes it highly extensible. It doesn’t simply store information to identify tables and columns. It allows you to define data types, index types, and functional languages. It's also compatible with most operating systems, including Linux platforms, and it integrates well with data from a wide variety of databases. PostgreSQL also works with, both, on-site servers and cloud-based servers.
Even though it's a nonprofit, free database system, a large network of devoted followers and volunteers offer free support to users and regularly update the system.
- More features: PostgreSQL has a lot more features than other DBMSs. These extra features include table inheritance, a rich set of data types (including native support for JSON), the ability to define a column as an "array" of column types, and more.
- Highly ACID compliant: PostgreSQL consistently ranks as the most ACID-compliant DBMS. If data integrity is your top priority, PostgreSQL could be an ideal choice.
- Massive scalability: PostgreSQL can work with massive database tables.
- Lack of documentation: PostgreSQL doesn't have the best documentation compared to other database engines. If you run into an issue, you might need to seek help from a private PostgreSQL support firm, or try your luck with the community support forums.
- Issue of speed with read-only operations: PostgreSQL excels with read-write operations for data that needs validation, but slowdowns could happen when working with read-only operations.
Best use case for PostgreSQL: Since PostgreSQL is completely free and scalable, this is an excellent solution for companies of any size. More importantly, if you can benefit from a DBMS with native JSON support, PostgreSQL is for you. Read more about whether you should choose PostgreSQL or MySQL here.
MongoDB is a free, open-source database engine built especially for applications that use unstructured data. Because most DBMSs were built for structured data — even if add-ons allow them to handle non-relational data now — MongoDB excels where other DBMSs fail. MongoDB works with structured data too, but since this database engine wasn't designed for relational data, performance slowdowns are likely.
MongoDB connects non-relational databases with applications by using a wide variety of drivers (based on the programming language of the application). The most recent versions of MongoDB include pluggable storage engines. Upgraded text search features are also available, along with partial indexing features, which can help with performance.
- NoSQL support: This DBMS was specifically made to support JSON and NoSQL data.
- Highly flexible: Since MongoDB stores and manages any kind of information, developers face fewer restrictions when incorporating data into a MongoDB database.
- Great for applications including web-based apps: MongoDB has become a popular DBMS for web-based applications.
- No SQL querying: MongoDB will not accept SQL queries. You can use additional tools to translate your SQL queries to work with this database engine. However, the workaround can be inconvenient.
- Difficult to set up: MongoDB takes time and more experience to set up properly than other solutions.
- Lack of security: The native settings on MongoDB don't tend to be very secure. Additional steps will be required to secure this database.
Best use case for MongoDB: If you're building an application on top of an operational database, and you need a really fast response time, MongoDB could be the right choice for you. However, if you're building a data warehouse for analytics purposes, you might want to use a different platform.
How Integrate.io Can Help
Different databases serve different functions. The one you choose all depends on your data project. Instead of relying on one database to fulfill your data management needs, you can use an ETL platform like Integrate.io, which integrates data from multiple sources and moves that data to a final destination so it's ready for analytics.
Here's how Integrate.io works:
- It extracts data from the database, SaaS app, customer relationship management system, enterprise resource planning system, or another platform of your choice.
- It transforms that data so it's ready for analytics.
- It loads the data to a final destination like a data warehouse or data lake.
You can then run this data through business intelligence tools and generate business insights.
Integrate.io moves data from its source to a final destination through big data pipelines that require no code or low code. That means you can analyze data from a database with no code or programming skills.
Other benefits of Integrate.io include:
- Excellent customer service.
- A simple pricing model that charges users for connectors used, not data volume.
- A powerful REST API.
- Salesforce-to-Salesforce connector that moves data from Salesforce to another location and then moves it back again.
Integrate.io currently has an average user score of 4.3 out of five stars on G2.com. Here's what people think of the platform:
- "I enjoy using Integrate.io, it's a very well-made software tool, it's super intuitive and user-friendly. What stands out the most to me is the quality and responsiveness of your support representatives." (A user in the healthcare sector.)
- "Easy and intuitive UI. Great and current documentation. The Integrate.io support team is pretty awesome, too!" (Bill H.)
- "Easy to use tool with a relatively small learning curve and the ability to scale workloads on demand. Wide range of connectors which makes the development faster." (An administrator in pharmaceuticals.)
It is possible to use more than one type of database to meet different goals of your data strategy. Integrate.io helps bring all your data sources together with its easy-to-use integration platform. Learn more about Integrate.io's automated ETL data pipelines and low-code integration solutions or schedule a demo and experience the platform for yourself.