Database Sharding: Advantages, Drawbacks, and Sharding Architectures

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Written By Naomi Porter

Naomi Porter is a dedicated writer with a passion for technology and a knack for unraveling complex concepts. With a keen interest in data scaling and its impact on personal and professional growth.

Scaling databases can be a complex challenge, especially when dealing with large amounts of data. As businesses grow, they often face increased data volumes and need to efficiently handle growing databases to ensure that their applications can handle increasing demands and deliver optimal performance. Database sharding is a method for horizontally scaling a single dataset across multiple databases. This article will explore the benefits and drawbacks of database sharding, as well as different sharding architectures.


Database sharding is a powerful methodology that provides horizontal scalability to databases. Generally, a database server can only handle a certain amount of read/write operations per second based on its hardware capacity. This makes it difficult to handle high-volume read/write workloads and manage databases that are projected to grow beyond the capabilities of a single machine. Scale-out is necessary to accommodate growth without sacrificing response time or performance. Database partitioning or sharding is an excellent approach to achieve horizontal scaling.

In this article, we will discuss the ins and outs of database sharding, including how it works, its advantages, and its drawbacks. We will also look at different sharding architectures like algorithmic/key-based sharding, dynamic sharding, range-based sharding, and entity group-based sharding, and what sets them apart.

Advantages of Database Sharding

Scaling databases horizontally by adding more servers is the recommended approach as it provides a solution for handling more intensive workloads while maintaining performance levels. Here are some benefits of database sharding:

  • Improved Query Performance: With database sharding, performance can be improved by dividing large databases into smaller data chunks that can be distributed across multiple machines. Therefore, the system’s performance can be enhanced by reducing downtime and latency.
  • Improved Fault Tolerance & Availability: Sharding helps prevent data loss by enabling data distribution across multiple database servers. This ensures that even if one server goes down, the system remains operational, and data is accessible without loss. In addition, database sharding provides high availability through its distribution of servers that are ensured to have minimal downtime.
  • Scalability & Performance: Database sharding is very efficient as it scales-up the database horizontally by adding more servers, reducing administration costs, and infrastructure costs. As the data is distributed across multiple machines, we can efficiently distribute our application load, resulting in higher application performance and response time.
  • Reduced Costs: By grouping data, multi-tenant and single-tenant sharding can help reduce costs, as tenants can be packed together into fewer databases. Sharding can also help reduce infrastructure costs and management overhead.##Drawbacks of Database Sharding
    There are a few drawbacks associated with database sharding:

  • Complexity & Operational Overhead: Database sharding is not easy to implement and adds a certain level of complexity to the system, increasing operational overhead, management complexity and application complexity. As the number of databases increases, managing them also becomes more complicated and time-consuming. This can lead to operational errors, which may compromise the security and integrity of the data.

  • Data Imbalance & Data Hotspots: If the sharding key is not well-chosen, there can be an imbalance in data distribution, and some shards may become overloaded, leading to performance issues. This can also lead to “hot spots” where one particular shard has to handle more data than others, which can cause latency.
  • Alternative Solutions: Before implementing database sharding, it is important to consider alternative solutions like vertical scaling, specialized services or purpose-built databases, replication, and hybrid approaches. Vertical scaling involves upgrading hardware components and can help in situations where data is not growing exponentially. Specialized services like graph databases and elastic database tools can be very useful in specific use cases. Replication can provide both horizontal scalability and fault tolerance but has some limitations. Hybrid approaches can work we, leveraging what each approach does best.

Sharding Architectures for Horizontal Scaling

There are various sharding architectures that can provide horizontal scaling to databases. These include ranged/dynamic sharding, algorithmic/hashed sharding, and entity/relationship-based sharding.

  • Ranged/Dynamic Sharding: Ranged/dynamic sharding is based on the concept of partitioning the data based on its range. This sharding method is useful when the application queries are based on specific ranges or predicates. However, it is not very useful when dealing with unpredictable, real-world systems that may be impacted by sudden spikes in traffic or demands.
  • Algorithmic/Hashed Sharding: In algorithmic/hashed sharding, the sharding key is converted into a hash, which is used to distribute the data across multiple servers. This is particularly useful for systems that deal with unpredictable traffic patterns and require a high degree of scalability.
  • Entity/Relationship-based Sharding: Entity/relationship-based sharding involves grouping entities that are related together so that they can efficiently be processed on the same server. This sharding method is very useful in applications that have intense workloads and many relationships between data.


Database sharding can provide an efficient and cost-effective way to handle large amounts of data and improve scalability and performance. However, it is important to carefully consider the advantages and drawbacks of database sharding before implementing it. Organizations must determine whether it is the best solution for their needs. Before introducing sharding, organizations should also explore alternative solutions like vertical scaling, specialized services or purpose-built databases, replication, and hybrid approaches. When choosing a sharding architecture, it is crucial to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of various architectures like ranged/dynamic, algorithmic/hashed, and entity/relationship-based sharding. By cultivating a good understanding of database sharding, companies can make informed decisions regarding data management and scaling and ensure that their applications can handle increasing demands and deliver optimal performance.