Why MySQL rocks for Web 2.0 startups

Or how your startup can scale up with MySQL

Why choose MySQL

  • easy to install
  • good documentation
  • good support online via mailing lists, forums and blogs
  • packages for almost all major Linux distributions and other OS
  • supports replication, which allows for easy scalability

How MySQL scales up

Let us see how the MySQL setup changes as the startup grows.

Initial setup

The initial setup has apache and MySQL running on the same box. There is usually no remote backups happening and this box is the 'single point of failure'. The usual bottleneck in this setup is the memory and the disk i/o, since MySQL needs memory for caching data and apache (and php) needs memory to handle requests.

Stage 2

In stage 2, the apache and the database is split off onto two different boxes. This usually solves the memory and disk i/o bottleneck. Since both the reads (i.e. SELECTS) and writes (i.e. INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE etc.) happen using the same database box, you cannot scale your reads and writes and the database becomes your bottleneck now.

Stage 3

When you reach stage 3, you will need to separate your reads and writes in your application. The usual setup here is a MySQL master with a few slaves replicating off it. Mediawiki implements this, so you can examine its source code to understand how this can be done.

At this stage, it is a good idea to keep the slaves behind a load balancer and point your reads to it. Of course, you will need to worry about replication lags and its impact on your application at this stage.

The bottleneck in this setup will be the speed of your writes. You will also need a recovery plan to recover when your master fails. There will be bunch of weird replication issues that you will need to troubleshoot now.

Stage 4

At this stage, you will realize that the bottleneck in your application is the MySQL master - since all the writes go to one single box.

At this point, you should think about partitioning your data. A database partition is a part of a database that consists of its own data and indexes. You have a partitioning key (for example, user name or zip code) and you have a function which assigns a partition number based on that primary key.

You might want to implement your own partitioning scheme or you might want to use a Free Software library like HiveDB. Whichever route you choose, be prepared to spend some time doing the QA of the code before moving it to production.


Scalability is a hard problem, but it is possible to solve. There is no magic bullet to solve it. I don't think there is any database which you can just throw in and then expect it to scale without changing you application.

My suggestion is - bang out a version 1 of you application, but be prepared to rewrite it for scalability as soon as you start seeing problems.

Additional information