Understanding Horizontal vs. Vertical Scaling

In this article, we will learn about vertial and horizontal scalling in simple language, as many get confused while distinguishing between these two concepts of scalling the infrastructure.

What is Scalling?

Just like adjusting the number of lanes on a highway helps it handle more cars, increasing its capacity and allowing vehicles to reach their destinations more efficiently, in the world of computing and IT systems, scaling has a similar purpose. When we discuss 'capacity' here, we're referring to resources such as virtual machines (VMs), memory, CPU, storage, and more. Boosting this capacity might involve adding more VMs or amplifying the memory and CPU of existing systems. The essence is to adjust these resources to accommodate fluctuating demands, ensuring peak performance, cost-effectiveness, and consistent system uptime.

What is Vertical Scaling (Scaling up or Down)?

Vertical scaling involves adding more resources, such as memory or CPU, to an existing server or replacing that server with a more powerful one.


Let's consider a website hosted on a server with 4 GB of RAM and 2 CPU cores. If the website starts to get more traffic and needs more resources to handle the requests, one might upgrade the server to have 8 GB of RAM and 4 CPU cores.


Suppose you have an e-commerce website. On a regular day, your traffic is moderate. However, during a holiday sale, the traffic spikes significantly. To ensure your website doesn't crash, you might consider upgrading to a more powerful server (with a higher CPU, RAM, or storage). This is vertical scaling.


  • Simpler to implement as there's no distribution of services.
  • There is no need for changes in application architecture.


  • There are physical limits to how much you can scale vertically.
  • Potential for longer downtimes during upgrades.
  • Can be more expensive in the long run.

What is Horizontal Scaling (Scaling Out or In)?

Horizontal scaling involves adding more servers to or removing servers from the existing pool to distribute the load.


Consider the same website, which is experiencing more traffic. Instead of upgrading the existing server, you add three more servers with the same configuration. Now, the incoming traffic and workload are distributed across these four servers.


Continuing with the e-commerce website example, instead of upgrading to a single powerful server, you decide to distribute the load by adding more servers. So, when the traffic spikes during the holiday sale, the load balancer directs traffic to one of the many servers you have, distributing the load and ensuring no single server is overwhelmed.


  • Can potentially scale indefinitely, as you can keep adding more servers.
  • Failures can be handled more gracefully. If one server fails, others can take over.
  • Better for ensuring high availability and redundancy.


  • More complex infrastructure and can require changes in application architecture to support distributed processing.
  • Managing and maintaining multiple servers can be challenging.
  • Network overhead can become an issue if not managed properly.
To decide between horizontal and vertical scaling, one must consider the nature of the application, budget, expected traffic, and how long-term the solution needs to be. Some applications might start with vertical scaling due to its simplicity and then move to horizontal scaling as the user base grows. Others, especially those built in the cloud era, might opt for horizontal scaling from the get-go, ensuring high availability and fault tolerance.


I hope the above article helped you understand horizontal scaling and vertical scaling in straightforward terms. If you found the content valuable, please share it with your friends and on social media.

Related articles 

Post a Comment


Protected by Copyscape
Copyright © Compilemode