How to Select the Right Database For Your New App or Service

There are over 300 different database management systems on the market. From embedded DBS to big data-ready NoSQL databases and everything in between, you’ll find one to fit every conceivable use case. There are open-source databases, proprietary databases, databases that live in the cloud, and those that are small enough to run on a single chip.

As you begin the process of developing your next great application or service, you’re going to have to decide upon a database to use. Which one is right might be determined by numerous factors. Or maybe the answer is very simple.

Thing is, you have to be aware that not every database is perfectly suited for every situation. In fact, some databases are purpose-built for very specific use-cases.

Ask The Right Questions

But how do you choose the right database for your application or service? You must first ask yourself the right questions, including:

  • Does your app depend on SQL?
  • How much data will you be storing?
  • How much traffic will the database have to handle?
  • What programming languages will you be using?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Is your application mobile, desktop, or web-based?

Let’s examine these questions, so you get a better idea of how to choose the right database.

Does Your App Depend On SQL?

This should be the first question you ask. One of the reasons you’ll need to know this answer is because your app or service might consist of numerous components that need to seamlessly integrate with one another.

If you choose a database that doesn’t integrate well with the components you’ve pieced together, you could wind up with an app or service that doesn’t function as expected. For example, you might have deployed pieces to your app or service that use the SQL query language to retrieve data. If that’s the case, you must select a database that can function with SQL.

If you need a traditional SQL interface, MariaDB or MySQL are great choices. If, on the other hand, you need a NoSQL database (for larger amounts of different data types) that does offer some SQL functionality, you might have to consider going the MongoDB route with the BI Connector that translates SQL queries into MongoDB queries.

It’s absolutely critical that you do your homework upfront, so you know if SQL will be required within your application or service. Once you answer this question, you’ll have significantly narrowed down your choices.

How Much Data Will You Be Storing?

One of the major differences between relational and NoSQL databases is the amount of data they can store. Relational databases are vertically scalable, which can get very expensive (because you have to add more resources to a single system in order to scale). NoSQL databases, on the other hand, scale horizontally, which means you can more easily cluster cheap, commodity servers to scale.

If you’re looking at big data levels of data storage, the best option is a NoSQL database. If you’re looking to power a WordPress deployment that will maybe store hundreds or thousands of customer entries, a relational database will suffice.

How Much Traffic Will The Database Have to Handle?

This question is right in line with the amount of data you need to store. If you are certain your application, service, or website will be hammered with traffic, you need to ensure the chosen database can handle a high throughput (so it can handle many simultaneous users).

NoSQL databases were designed for high-performance data processing. These databases are more agile, better capable of scaling, and can process exponentially larger amounts of data than a relational database. So if you are certain traffic is going to be high, you must consider the NoSQL database.

Of the NoSQL databases, MongoDB, Cassandra, Amazon DynamoDB, HBase, and Redis are often considered to be the best at processing extremely large amounts of data very quickly.

What Programming Languages Will You Be Using?

Not every database works with every programming language. And the answer to this question does require a bit of research on your part. Once you’ve decided on a language (or languages) to be used for an application or service, you then must find out which databases support that language.

For example, if you choose Java, you can use any database that has a JDBC driver. If you’re using C++, you will probably have to employ the SQLAPI++ library to access SQL databases. So it’s not just about the database, but whether or not your language of choice has a library that will allow it to connect to a database.

What is Your Budget?

This one is simple. If you have a very tight budget, go for an open-source database. Fortunately, there are both open-source relational databases (such as MySQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, and SQLite) and open-source NoSQL databases (such as MongoDB, Cassandra, Apache HBase, CouchDB, RavenDB, and Redis).

If, on the other hand, you have plenty of budget to spare, you can opt for the likes of Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM Db2. The main benefit of using a proprietary option is some include support packages.

Are You Building a Mobile Application?

If you’re developing a mobile application, you need to keep in mind that the database must be able to handle complex queries, store data offline, and manage object relations at web scale. The most important aspect of that is the ability to store data offline.

Remember, mobile devices aren’t connected to a network 100% of the time. When away from wireless networks, the device depends on cellular connectivity, which can drop at any time. When that happens, any app being used must be able to store data offline. If you choose a database incapable of storing data locally, your app won’t function as expected.

One of the more popular options for storing data locally is SQLite. However, the problem with this database is that it doesn’t perform or scale a well as others. This means you’re going to have to select the best database for your mobile app very carefully.


This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions you must ask yourself. There will be many other factors that come into play. But if you at least start here, you’ll have narrowed down your choices significantly.

Don’t go into the choice of databases blindly, otherwise, you’ll make a very costly mistake and could wind up having to start from square one.