Horizontal vs. Vertical Scaling

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Horizontal vs Vertical Scaling

Every business that intends to grow and remain solvent should be aware of the concept of scaling horizontally vs vertically. The goal of business is to perform well enough to earn more business, it’s inevitable that any successful organization will need a plan to handle increased workloads.  Deciding how to scale is one of the key decisions that will be made during the company’s inception, but also a continued roundtable discussion as the company grows. 

In this blog, we discuss the two types of scaling: horizontal and vertical. Understanding these concepts should help you decide the best way to future-proof your company against the inevitable challenges brought about by success.

  • If you’d like to speak with an expert about how to instill scalability for your company’s digital infrastructure, contact one of our experts today.

About Scalability

The term ‘scaling’ refers to  ‘scalability’, commonly accepted as a company’s ability to handle the increased workloads that come with growth. While this is true, the term also refers to a company’s ability to scale downward; for instance, their ability to downsize efficiently to avoid wasting resources without becoming disorganized. Essentially, scalability describes your company’s ‘elasticity’, or its ability to adapt to any changes in its workload. 

Scalability is important for several reasons. For one, a company that doesn’t scale properly faces stagnation, which can lead to irrelevance in competitive industries. Expanding the limits of an organization’s capabilities from inception is a vital step in avoiding stagnation.  Scalability is also important for maintaining consistent quality in goods and/or services regardless of the size of a consumer base. This is especially important if your selling point is convenience–e.g. a platform that increases the efficiency of its clients–since inconsistent stability will cost much more than a retail company that takes a bit too long to respond.

The Difference Between Horizontal and Vertical Scaling

The terms ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ are the broad categories that encompass the various methods of scalability. Each refers to how resources are used in scalability, rather than the policies and practices you might install to overcome this challenge. They are defined as follows:

What is Horizontal Scaling?

Also called scaling out or outward, horizontal scaling is essentially adding new machines to a network to handle the extra work. This generally refers to adding more servers to your backend infrastructure. Scaling inward might involve removing machines to sell or repurpose, to avoid wasting resources on an operation that requires less than you expected. Or, in the case of the cloud, simply terminating on-demand VMs.

What is Vertical Scaling?

Vertical scaling–or scaling up or down--is adding and removing software resources to accommodate changes in workloads rather than adding new machines.  This method might involve switching out the CPUs and/or RAM in a group of machines with more powerful alternatives, which in many cases would negate the need for more machines. Or, in the case of the cloud, replacing a VM with one that has more CPUs/RAM allocated.

Horizontal vs Vertical Scaling: Which Is Better For Your Organization?

Different types of operations will have different scalability requirements. For example, most real estate businesses require less consideration because they typically deal with a low volume of customers with a high-profit margin on commissions. These companies might be able to get by with a vertical scaling policy before they reach the limits of computing power and are forced to scale horizontally.

Conversely, any type of social media network should expect its consumer base to grow very quickly if their marketing campaigns work as intended. Operations that depend on a high volume of consumers and continued growth like streaming services and retail operations should always consider how they’ll scale horizontally. This is to avoid technical problems that can come from overtaxed systems, but also to provide the same level of service that convinced the consumer to 

Of course, the cost of each method is also a large factor. If a company can’t afford to add extra nodes because it would mean they need more personnel to manage them, they must consider the vertical options.

Cloud Computing and Scalability

Fortunately for all companies, cloud computing helps with both forms of scaling. Virtualization negates much of the cost obstacle that might be faced by small to mid-sized companies. Automation helps large companies with automation, saving valuable time on high-volume operations that make constant adjustments a challenge.

An expert team like Foghorn Consulting can provide the expertise necessary for the most painless transitions. This includes saving on the cost of an in-house IT department with Managed Services, but also optimized resource allocation through consulting.