The point of polyglot

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Recently I spoke about polyglot persistence in one of the SQL Saturday events. The basic idea of this session revolved around the idea of not getting overwhelmed by the NoSQL boom, but at the same time understanding the modern application requirements which demand more features which side with the NoSQL features.

Enterprise application development is under massive shift than ever before. Enterprises look for more consumer application and social features in the enterprise software. Example – having a chat feature in a banking system, tags based image search, heavy blob handling features like bookmarking, read-resume-state and some go beyond the traditional limits and have AI features with cognitive services.

So the NoSQL technologies would help us in mapping, modeling, designing and developing these applications, sure they would do. But the adaption of NoSQL technologies, how it happens and the mentality of the people is quite interesting to see.

In my opinion there are two major concerns prevail in the industry about the adaption of NoSQL technology. They are

  • NoSQL for no reason  – People who believe that NoSQL is the way to go in all the projects. NoSQL is the ultimate savior.  NoSQL replaces the relational stores. World does not require relational databases. I often hear complains that the database table have more than 1 million rows or the database has grown more than 2 TB and now we think we need to move this to NoSQL, or they say it is very slow, so we need to move to NoSQL.
  • Fear of traditional relational database people – People who have relational database skills and think their skills do not match the NoSQL world and afraid of it. NoSQL is an alien technology that is going to replace relational databases. The fear of these people get worse by the group of people mentioned above who believe NoSQL for no reason.

Both parties miss the big picture. The better option is to use the right technology based on the requirement. The better case is – opting for polyglot persistence as the hybrid of both relational and NoSQL technologies.

Let’s name the decision point of when to make the move to polyglot persistence is point of polyglot. Below I have presented two real cases of polyglot persistence and mainly at which stage it happened.

Scenario of moving to polyglot from relational only – A product used in banking risk analysis, it handles many transactions and Azure SQL database running on premium tier. A feature came that users should be able to create their own forms and collect data (a custom surveys) we needed to store the HTML of the survey template and data filled by the users. At this point we thought about NoSQL, but we sided with relational. We stored the template as HTML and data as JSON in the SQL Database. We made this decision because there is no search required to be performed and the new feature seemed less likely to be used frequently. Later another feature rich chat module came with the ability to send attachments and group conversations. This is the point we decided to use Document DB (Azure based document type NoSQL). The user related data is in SQL Databases and the chat messages are in Document DB leading to a polyglot persistence.

Things to note : We were reluctant to move to NoSQL when the survey requirement came because, though it is dynamic during creation very much static after creation. And we didn’t want to add up NoSQL just because of this feature which is a part of a big module. But we readily made the decision of using Document DB for chat because it is a replacement of internal email system and not a good candidate to model using the relational schema.

Scenario of moving to polyglot from NoSQL only – This is a backend service and persistence of an emerging mobile app. Loads of unstructured data about places and reviews. Started with Azure Document DB. Later the app expanded and wanted the places and restaurants to be able to login using a portal and adjust their payment plans for promotions. We required to persist meta data and payment information – that’s the point we set up a Azure SQL Database and everything is smooth.

Things to note : It’s not that a NoSQL database cannot handle those transaction / accounting based information but it is  not a natural fit for any reporting and auditing purpose.

As you see there’s no strict rule on when one should decide to move to a NoSQL or to relational schema. I mention this balance as the natural fit.

Having strict demarcations of relational and NoSQL wouldn’t help to achieve the best use cases. As it’s hard to define the crossing point but it easy to see the overall business case and decide.

The below figure shows, the point of polyglot (author’s concept)

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Natural fit plays a major role in deciding the point of polyglot. But it doesn’t mean it is always somewhere in the middle, it can be anywhere based on the product features, roadmaps and team skill. There are products which have polyglot persistence from the beginning of the implementation.

Though point of polyglot can be mapped like above, the implementation of polyglot is influenced by two major factors – they are cost of implementation and the available skills. The below figure shows the decision matrix (author’s concept).

image

Conclusion – There are two groups of people with opposing mindsets in adapting either NoSQL or relational stores. At some point most of the projects would go through the point of polyglot but this is not the implementation point. In the general ground, implementation decision is highly influenced by the decision matrix.

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