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PlanetScale vs. Amazon Aurora

What is the difference?

PlanetScale and Amazon Aurora are both managed cloud database solutions that are designed to provide scalable and reliable database services. They have differences in how they are designed and implemented, but they also share similarities. PlanetScale can be deployed in several public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform, while Amazon Aurora is specific to AWS. Both have serverless deployment options and offer all the infrastructure and scalability benefits it provides.

Ultimately, the choice between the two will depend on your specific needs, including your requirements for multi-cloud support, pricing, database engine compatibility, and integration with other AWS services. In this article, we will compare and contrast the features, capabilities, and use cases of PlanetScale and Amazon Aurora to help you choose the best option for your organization.

What is PlanetScale?

PlanetScale is a cloud-native and multi-cloud database service. PlanetScale is built on top of Vitess, the popular open-source database management and sharding technology. Vitess is a middleware that can be placed between your application and your MySQL databases and handles the routing of database queries to the correct shards. Vitess was initially created at YouTube in 2010 and scaled it to billions of users, so it has its genesis in massive scalability. It continues to be used today at high growth organizations such as Pinterest, NewRelic, and Slack. It is designed to provide a performant, fault-tolerant database service that can handle large workloads. With Vitess, PlanetScale offers a fully managed database service with automatic backup, recovery, and multi-region replication capabilities. It supports SQL database engines, including MySQL. PlanetScale is the first database to integrate with existing CI pipelines and DevOps practices with features like branching, deploy requests, and more.  One of the unique features of PlanetScale is it being what we call “cloud agnostic.” PlanetScale can be deployed on multiple cloud platforms, allowing customers to choose the cloud provider that best fits their needs, without being locked into a specific vendor.

What is Amazon Aurora?

Amazon Aurora is a cloud-native relational database service developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It provides a scalable and high-performance database solution compatible with MySQL and PostgreSQL database management systems. It offers several performance enhancements that improve the speed and reliability of these databases. It uses a distributed architecture that replicates data across multiple storage nodes, providing fast and reliable read and write access to your data. It offers some multi-region replication features. As a fully managed database service, Amazon Aurora takes care of many of the tasks associated with traditional database management, such as provisioning, patching, backup, and recovery. It also integrates with other AWS services, making it easier to manage your databases and applications within the AWS ecosystem.

Comparisons: PlanetScale vs Amazon Aurora

General

Amazon Aurora is tightly integrated with other AWS services, such as AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), AWS CloudFormation and the AWS Management Console. This allows seamless integration if you already have an AWS account and make use of other AWS services. PlanetScale also simply integrates with both AWS and Google Cloud Platform, allowing you the flexibility of choosing the cloud provider rather than sticking with a proprietary AWS service.  Both Amazon Aurora and PlanetScale take away the fuss of managing the infrastructure of a database. Both are managed cloud services. Amazon Aurora facilitates all administration through the AWS console. PlanetScale has a clean and modern GUI built for user experience.

PlanetScale specializes in the MySQL database engine, which both platforms support. Aurora also supports PostgreSQL.

Scaling

Both Aurora and PlanetScale benefit from a horizontal scaling approach. This means adding more nodes to the cluster to increase its capacity. Due to Vitess, PlanetScale does not shard at the application-level. This allows both the application code and database queries to exist agnostic to data distribution across multiple shards. Generally, this is a more reliable, labor, and cost-conscious way to horizontally shard databases. With PlanetScale, the connections to each database resource are nearly unlimited when compared with Aurora in any of its possible cluster configurations. So if you have increased demand, you can quickly increase its capacity. In large-scale applications, this is a key feature for you to have. Without this you risk not being able to scale and handle increased demand.

Pricing

PlanetScale costs are built for scale. You get 5GB of storage for free on the unpaid tier which grows to 10GB on the first paid tier at $39 per month. With Scaler Pro, you can specify compute and memory resources and linearly scale this up with your needs. Additionally, PlanetScale has an Enterprise tier that can be priced and customized to your requirements.  With Aurora, the total cost gets determined by the types and sizes of compute nodes that are used, as well as total usage time for each one. It can require pre-existing knowledge of your I/O operations and other usage. Aurora’s pricing model is similar to Amazon’s Relational Database Service (RDS), Amazon’s other managed database offering.  This can be a bit cumbersome for some teams who have already made the switch and benefited from PlanetScale’s platform instead.

Operations

Both database systems offer monitoring, logging and auditing solutions. PlanetScale offers built-in auditing and log retention, as well as integrations with popular third-party monitoring tools such as Datadog. Aurora has a tight integration with other AWS services to help achieve a holistic monitoring solution, such as Database Activity Streams for cluster activity monitoring, and AWS CloudTrail for auditing logs. However, the choice of monitoring and logging tooling varies per organization. If you have other workloads such as web applications or data warehouses, you might want to consolidate these to a centralized monitoring platform, which both PlanetScale and Aurora can support.

In addition, PlanetScale's free plan includes two environments, one from production and one for development, both including CI/CD processes by default. While this is possible as well with Amazon Aurora by cloning the database cluster, with PlanetScale, it is already integrated in the platform. It is also more organic because it follows the model of traditional branching happening in code-like repositories.

Conclusion

Both PlanetScale and Amazon Aurora offer robust managed and serverless MySQL databases, but with fundamental differences in how they are built. While both database systems offer a horizontal scaling option and operations solutions, PlanetScale is built on Vitess and has offerings on AWS and GCP, while Amazon Aurora is proprietary to AWS. In summary, PlanetScale and Aurora are two popular MySQL databases with different strengths, making each a suitable choice for different types of projects and organizations.