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October 16, 2023

What is Diagonal Scaling and When is It your Best Option?

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October 16, 2023
Margo McCabe
Head of DevRel & Partnerships at HarperDB

Table of Contents

Diagonal scaling as it relates to a database and/or cloud computing is precisely what it sounds like - combining the best of both vertical and horizontal scaling to better suit the needs of the organization. When implemented correctly, diagonal scaling enables you to handle more data and more users, ultimately enhancing efficiency and reducing bottlenecks. 

In the database world, scaling typically refers to the process of adding more resources (such as servers, storage, or processing power) to handle increased data and workload demands. Common approaches to scaling databases include vertical scaling (adding more resources to a single server) and horizontal scaling (distributing the database across multiple servers).

Diagonal or hybrid scaling can be a game-changer, offering a dynamic solution to the challenges related to fluctuating workloads. Unlike traditional vertical and horizontal scaling approaches, diagonal scaling provides the flexibility to adapt to changing demands seamlessly. In this article, we will delve into the concept of diagonal scaling and its many benefits.

Types of Scaling 

Vertical Scaling (Scaling Up)

Vertical scaling involves adding more resources (such as CPU, RAM, or storage) to a single server or database instance. This approach is often used for databases that can't be easily partitioned or distributed, and it's suitable for workloads with limited growth potential. It can be costly because you need to invest in more powerful hardware, and there's a limit to how much you can scale vertically.

Horizontal Scaling (Scaling Out)

Horizontal scaling involves distributing the database workload across multiple servers or nodes.

This approach is highly scalable and is commonly used for handling large volumes of data and high traffic. Sharding and replication (or clustering) are common techniques used in horizontal scaling, and these methods can be more cost-effective and resilient than vertical scaling.

Read Scaling and Write Scaling:

We should also briefly touch on read and write scaling. Read Scaling involves optimizing the database to handle read-heavy workloads. Techniques like read replicas (copying data for read access) and caching mechanisms can be used to offload read traffic from the primary database. Write Scaling focuses on handling write-heavy workloads efficiently. Techniques such as partitioning, indexing, and optimizing write queries can help improve write performance.

Overall, one might consider that diagonal or hybrid scaling combines elements of both vertical and horizontal scaling to optimize database performance and cost. For example, you might vertically scale a database server and then use horizontal scaling by adding read replicas to distribute read traffic.

The Need for Diagonal Scaling

Imagine a scenario where your workload experiences sudden spikes, such as a surge in orders or users during certain months. Initially, when CPU utilization is manageable, a load balancer can easily adjust the capacity without any hiccups. However, as heavier tasks like processing large videos or other massive files become more time-consuming, some processes may require additional compute power. This situation can lead to a bottleneck in your system.

Enter diagonal scaling—a savior in times of imbalance. You can tweak the compute size, such as upgrading your RAM and storage size. By doing so, some instances can handle heavier workloads, while others can continue using the existing configuration. This intelligent allocation of resources prevents instances from being throttled, ensuring smooth operations.

Benefits of Diagonal Scaling

Uniting Vertical and Horizontal Scaling

Diagonal scaling offers the versatility to add resources precisely where they are needed in response to specific business scenarios. When there is a sudden surge in traffic, diagonal scaling swiftly accommodates the increased demand. Conversely, when traffic subsides, the configuration returns to its normal state. This dynamic approach strikes a perfect balance between resource allocation and efficiency.

Fine-Tuned Resource Allocation

Diagonal scaling empowers you to increase the compute capacity of specific workloads that require additional resources to handle sudden surges effectively. Simultaneously, it enables the addition of new compute resources as per demand. This granular control over resource allocation ensures that your system remains agile and responsive to changing requirements.

Budgeting and Cost Efficiency

Diagonal scaling introduces a new level of budgeting and cost-effectiveness for businesses dealing with variable workload volumes. Instead of overprovisioning resources continuously to accommodate potential spikes, you can allocate resources precisely when and where they are needed. This strategic resource allocation not only optimizes costs but also enhances overall operational efficiency.

HarperDB: A Unified Solution for Diagonal Scaling

When considering the advantages of diagonal scaling and its potential to optimize system performance and cost, it's crucial to recognize that the right technology can make a significant difference. HarperDB, with its unified system architecture and configurable data replication capabilities, is a standout solution for efficiently harnessing the power of diagonal scaling.

HarperDB's Unified System Architecture

One of the key elements that makes HarperDB a great solution for diagonal scaling is its unified system architecture. Unlike many traditional database systems that require various components and complex configurations when scaling horizontally, HarperDB simplifies the process by providing all the components out of the box. With HarperDB, you have a single, cohesive system that reduces the number of moving parts in play when giving flexibility to expand geo-specific resources to accommodate increasing demands.

Configurable Data Replication

HarperDB goes a step further by offering configurable data replication. This means you can distribute resources asymmetrically to optimize certain nodes for higher usage, which is essential for efficient diagonal scaling. By intelligently allocating resources where they are needed most, HarperDB allows you to adapt to fluctuating workloads seamlessly, ensuring that your system remains agile and responsive to changing requirements.

Incorporating HarperDB into your diagonal scaling strategy can help you achieve the perfect balance between resource allocation and efficiency. This fine-tuned approach to scaling not only enhances your system's performance but also optimizes costs and overall operational efficiency. HarperDB represents a significant leap forward in system scalability and a powerful tool for businesses seeking to thrive in today's dynamic environment. 


Diagonal scaling represents a paradigm shift in data storage and cloud computing, offering an intelligent and responsive approach to resource management. By seamlessly blending vertical and horizontal scaling techniques, it provides the agility required to thrive in today's dynamic business environment. Embracing diagonal scaling can lead to improved performance, cost savings, and greater control over your infrastructure, making it a valuable tool for businesses of all sizes.

While you're here, learn about HarperDB, a breakthrough development platform with a database, applications, and streaming engine in one unified solution.

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