Horizontal And Vertical Scaling: Differences Simplified (2021)

Ajay Ohri


The ability to assess the increase or decrease in the resources’ performance as per the current needs is termed as Scalability. In the cloud, computing Scaling means monitoring the application needs by adding or deleting the information resources by analyzing the application performance. Scaling can be implemented in two types as per the organization’s needs: Horizontal and Vertical scaling.

It is possible in cloud computing due to the virtualization of physical resources, making it easier to move and moly the resources with ease. With scaling, the user prepares its tools to adapt to future needs and requirements efficiently. It is one of the most beneficial attributes of cloud computing. Every organization should try and implement scaling from the beginning to give a better user experience at low costs. Also, when the time comes to make certain changes in the system, if an organization has prioritized scaling initially, it helps in making the transition process to the upgraded new system quite easy.

  1. Vertical Scaling
  2. Horizontal Scaling

1. Vertical Scaling

Consider a restaurant with a fixed seating capacity. When more customers come in, they arrange more tables or seatings at the bar accordingly to accommodate all the customers comfortably. The objective is to scale the main resource that’s the restaurant’s capacity.  This is called vertical scaling. Vertical scaling is basically reconfiguring the capacity of the main server without changing the code by increasing or decreasing resources as per the requirement.

In cloud computing, it is done by adding more software, more CPUs, or more storage to the existing server to accommodate the increasing traffic. This scaling-up approach basically involves making your existing mainframe more powerful than before. The main limitation of implementing this kind of strategy is the limited growth as per the size of your server. Vertical scaling strategy does have its advantages like fewer utility costs like power or cooling and reduced administrative time as one only needs to supervise one server or less licensing fees, and that’s why it’s popular in smaller size companies.

But with limited scalability, high risk of vendor lock-in, fear of substantial server downtime, it is not one of the preferred options for growing mid-sized companies or larger companies. If the main server goes down, then you are stuck as there is no other server you can direct the traffic to. Scalability is a quality feature designed for the long run, so before choosing a horizontal and vertical scaling option, analyze your application goals thoroughly and then decide. 

2. Horizontal Scaling

Now consider the same restaurant with fixed seating capacity. Still, the restaurant’s demand is so high every day that it gets difficult to accommodate customers comfortably. So to serve the customers better and maintain restaurant credibility, you buy the next-door shop as well and accommodate your customers efficiently. Thus, you are handling customer traffic by adding one more space. This is called Horizontal scaling. In cloud computing, It means distributing the load efficiently to more than one server to reduce the responsibility of one server.

By adding more machines to your existing resources, it helps in managing increasing requests and demands. In this, we do not change the capacity or configuration of the existing server, but we add more nodes to it to relieve some load off it. With two or more servers, you never have to worry about increasing traffic load. As it’s much easier to upgrade smaller systems, this scaling-out approach involves more efficient use of the systems.

Also, any issues or faults in systems can be easily identified and rectified in a faster way under this strategy. Even though under horizontal scaling, you may have to incur extra server implementation,  utility costs, infrastructure designing costs but overall, between horizontal and vertical scaling, if possible, it’s a much better option than vertical scaling.

Horizontal scaling is more widely used than vertical scaling as costs incurred in the implementation of the new machine are always less as compared to scaling up. Also, with horizontal scaling, you don’t have to worry about hardware capacity getting used up fully. Even though performance is higher with vertical scaling due to upgraded hardware, but the problem is that only limited upgrade as per the size of the server is available, and implementation of new hardware takes too much time.

The difference between horizontal and vertical scaling is all dependent on the growth requirements of organizations. Hence, when faster growth is the need, then vertical scaling is not always the best option. 


Most of the organizations fail to implement scalability as they don’t see the current requirement of the same. But what these organizations fail to recognize is that prevention is always better than cure. Adopting a scalability model today would give them an edge above their competitors in this dynamically changing environment. Deciding Horizontal or vertical scaling is a user’s choice as per their needs, but the requirement is to implement at least one of them. 

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