Horizontal Scaling vs. Vertical Scaling in IT Systems: The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

Super computer in a server room.You’ve probably heard scalability come up in discussions about IT systems and solutions, particularly concerning the cloud. If you want to add resources and capacity to your infrastructure, there are two main ways to accomplish that: Horizontal scaling and vertical scaling, according to the IBM blog entry “How to explain vertical and horizontal scaling in the cloud.”

If you’re not already familiar with the details of how horizontal expansion compares to vertical scaling, here’s an overview of how these methods work and the pros and cons of each process.

What Is Horizontal Scaling?

Scaling horizontally – a.k.a., scaling out – involves adding machines or components to your setup, according to Techopedia. For instance, in a situation where you have a single server and need to accommodate an increasing number of data transfers, horizontal scaling would mean introducing more servers and linking them to each other to handle the larger workload.

What is Vertical Scaling?

When you scale vertically or scale up, you upgrade the current component or components of your setup with additional resources and capabilities to handle a larger workload, Techopedia explains. Returning to the aforementioned example involving a server that needs to execute more data transfers, vertical scaling would mean enhancing that server’s memory or processing abilities.

How to Determine Which Method Makes the Most Sense for Your Business

Like all IT strategies and solutions, the two types of scaling both have pros and cons that you should carefully consider when determining what’s best for your organization. Horizontal scalability is a popular approach with some IT professionals because of the following benefits:

    • The additional hardware can also provide redundant data storage, according to Techopedia.
    • It doesn’t require downtime, since you can keep all of your infrastructure up and running while you bring the new machines online, according to the Educative article “Scaling horizontally vs. scaling vertically.”

However, scaling out instead of up can also come with these potential drawbacks, according to the GeeksforGeeks article “Horizontal and Vertical Scaling In Databases.”

    • It’s a more complex and time-consuming process than vertical scaling.
    • Purchasing new components can be more expensive than upgrading the current building blocks of your infrastructure in the short term. However, it’s important to note that scaling a machine vertically can become more costly if you max out its capacity and face the prospect of replacing it entirely to meet your needs, according to “Penetration Tester’s Open Source Toolkit (Fourth Edition)” by Jeremy Faircloth as quoted on ScienceDirect.

Vertical scaling, on the other hand, has the following potential advantages for your business, according to GeeksforGeeks and Educative.

    • It’s typically an easier and therefore faster process.
    • It’s often less costly in the short term.
    • It involves a more minimal physical footprint, which can be better for the environment.

Of course, scaling up instead of out also has its possible downsides, according to Educative and ScienceDirect.

    • It necessitates downtime, as you’ll need to take your system offline to upgrade it.
    • Your overall scalability is limited to the maximum capacity of the machine you’re upgrading.
    • As previously stated, you can end up spending more in the long run if you max out the machine and have to replace it to keep scaling up.

Ultimately, choosing the right approach for your business depends on your objectives and needs. If you’d like guidance or have any questions about horizontal scaling versus vertical scaling, our techs would be happy to assist you. Just give us a call at 877-599-3999 or email sales@stratospherenetworks.com.

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