When do you pick HBase instead of MySQL?

Facebook works its data magic at scales others only dream of. And they do this for over 600,000,000 people, in real time!  (see: Facebook's New Real-Time Messaging System: HBase To Store 135+ Billion Messages A Month). Cade Metz just wrote a piece diving deeper into this at The Register. His article is titled "HBase: Shops swap MySQL for open source Google mimic."  This great reporting underscores something we already knew, that Facebook is a pioneer in the world of fast/realtime read/write access to big data. He also underscored that when you see Facebook making moves like swapping MySQL for HBase it is yet another reason to study what is going on here. This is especially important since Facebook is not the only firm swapping out MySQL for HBase.

So here is a bit more on HBase:

HBase is an Apache Software Foundation project. Here is more from Apache.org:

HBase is an open-source, distributed, versioned, column-oriented store modeled after Google' Bigtable: A Distributed Storage System for Structured by Chang et al. Just as Bigtable leverages the distributed data storage provided by the Google File System, HBase provides Bigtable-like capabilities on top of Hadoop. HBase includes:

Here is more from the Cade Metz article:

HBase is part of the Apache Hadoop project, a sweeping effort to mimic Google's proprietary infrastructure with open source code. It dovetails with HDFS, the Hadoop distributed file system, and Hadoop MapReduce, the distributed number-crunching platform. HBase is essentially a low-latency layer that sits atop HDFS, letting you rapidly store and retrieve data. It's fashioned after Google's BigTable platform, which Mountain View publicly described in a 2006 research paper.

Now back to the title of this post.  How do you know if you should pick MySQL or HBase for a solution?

If you are designing systems to operate at huge scale, or integrating with other Hadoop related projects, select HBase. HBase, with Hadoop and related capabilities, is also there to support analysis at scale. So, if you are designing for making sense over big data, pick HBase.

MySQL is not going away. But the things it will be optimized for are traditional RDBMS solutions. If you can comfortably store your data in tables with rows and columns and don't have that much of it or don't do fast analysis over it, MySQL may be your best pick. MySQL is widely used, highly reliable, and well understood. So if your future growth and business model indicates you will never run into scale problems or have challenges conducting analysis over your data, MySQL may well be the best choice.

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Bob Gourley

Partner at Cognitio Corp
Bob Gourley is a Co-founder and Partner at Cognitioand the founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLCand the publisher of CTOvision.com andThreatBrief.com. Bob's background is as an all source intelligence analyst and an enterprise CTO. Find him on Twitter at @BobGourley
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About Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is a Co-founder and Partner at Cognitio and the founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLCand the publisher of CTOvision.com and ThreatBrief.com. Bob's background is as an all source intelligence analyst and an enterprise CTO. Find him on Twitter at @BobGourley


  1. Mat Keep says:

    Facebook are still massive MySQL users – for the particular application above, they used HBase, but their core data management is run with MySQL – and that isn't goin to change any time soon, however much articles like this suggest they are. Take a look at their recent stats and webcast on how they use MySQL: http://highscalability.com/blog/2010/11/4/faceboo

  2. Bob,

    An interesting follow up to this would be some insight on when an organization should be considering an OLTP database (MySQL) or alternative (HBase) vs when you would use an OLAP or analytic database (Aster Data) vs when you would use an ELT Batch processing platform (Hadoop). I think there is a lot of misconception in the market about when to pick which solution.

    You may also want to check out some of the recent posts by Curt Monash over on DBMS2. He's recently been posting about requirements for a good data analytic system.

    • Thanks Ian, very good point. I need to get writing on that.

      I'll see you at the Big Data event tomorrow. I have high hopes for that event, and would appreciate your thoughts on what the federal enterprises should be thinking through after the event.


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