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The pros and cons of the Sharding architecture pattern

Understanding architectural patterns are beneficial for designing a scalable software architecture. Here are 7 factors to consider when exploring database sharding.
Shard pattern of rock formation

Photo by zengxiao lin

Having a grasp of common architectural patterns is essential to designing software architecture at scale. Using them saves not only time but also ensures a reliable implementation of your design. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when there’s an architectural pattern available that applies to an architecture you’re developing.

The following is a brief overview of the Sharding architectural pattern.

Understanding the Sharding pattern

The Sharding pattern is when a datastore is separated from a single storage instance into multiple instances called shards. Data is then divided according to some form of sharing logic. Queries are executed against the shards. It’s up to the database technology implementing the shards to perform the queries in an optimized manner.

One type of sharding logic is when database administrators (DBAs) segment data according to values in a particular field in the database. An example of such separation is dividing data among the shards according to the first letters of the last name.

The Sharding architectural pattern
Figure 1: The Sharding architectural pattern

Another type of sharding separates data according to a segmentation logic that ensures that disk capacity is consumed equally among all instances.


  • The sharding pattern is well suited for large, distributed enterprise applications.
  • Sharding allows for the fast execution of a command or a query.
  • Storage segmentation, which is a key feature of the sharding pattern, enables the physical infrastructure to scale in a controlled manner.


  • The sharding pattern requires that DBAs have both specific domain expertise and experience with the best practices of the database technologies in play in order to manage the sharding segmentation effectively.
  • Shards distributed over a large number of geolocations can be susceptible to performance degradation due to excessive network traffic.
  • Some database technologies are better suited to the sharding pattern than others. Thus, you need to choose wisely.
  • Added hardware means a higher total cost of ownership of the service.

Putting it all together

Separating data using the Sharding pattern is well suited to large distributed applications. Large enterprise applications depend on fast data access. Logically segmenting data according to a data table’s key or a database’s storage capabilities executes queries with a fine grain of precision. Searching for data according to shard is faster. Also, scaling becomes more efficient.

Topics:   Architecture patterns  
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Bob Reselman

Bob Reselman is a nationally known software developer, system architect, industry analyst, and technical writer/journalist. More about me

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