Cassandra vs. MongoDB: Navigating the NoSQL Landscape

Aditi Prakash
August 25, 2023
10 min read
MongoDB and Cassandra are two prominent NoSQL databases, each with unique features and advantages. While MongoDB is a widely-known, document-oriented database, Cassandra shines as a columnar store built for scalability.

This article provides an exhaustive comparison Cassandra vs. MongoDB, dissecting their strengths, weaknesses, and the best scenarios for their usage.

As organizations seek to harness the power of data to drive innovation and competitiveness, the data landscape has witnessed a significant transformation, giving rise to a class of databases known as NoSQL.

NoSQL databases can handle large-scale unstructured or semi-structured data, accommodating the dynamic nature of today’s applications.

In this realm, MongoDB and Apache Cassandra stand out as prominent contenders, each championing distinct data storage, retrieval, and scalability approaches.

In this article, we will explore both database solutions and their key features before diving into a detailed comparison of the two and highlighting factors to help you choose the right database for your needs.

What is MongoDB?

MongoDB is a leading non-relational database designed to handle modern data challenges, offering flexibility, scalability, and performance. 

It diverges from traditional relational databases, employing a document-oriented data model and dynamic schema that accommodates structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data.

MongoDB’s rich set of features makes it an excellent choice for applications where data is dynamic and requires the flexibility to adapt to evolving business needs. 

It is a widely adopted solution across various industries and use cases, including content management systems, e-commerce platforms, social media applications, real-time analytics solutions, and more.

Key Features:

The NoSQL database boasts the following features:

  • Document-Oriented: MongoDB stores data in BSON (Binary JSON) documents, which is an optimized JSON format.
  • Flexible Data Model: No rigid schema requirements; documents within a collection can have varying structures.
  • Horizontal Scalability: Supports sharding for distributing data across multiple servers, enabling seamless scaling.
  • Aggregation Framework: Powerful tool for performing complex data transformations and analysis.
  • Full-Text Search: Built-in text search capabilities for efficient querying of text-based data.
  • Geospatial Capabilities: Supports geospatial indexing and querying for location-based data.
  • High Availability: Provides replication for fault tolerance and data redundancy.
  • Automatic Failover: Automatic detection and recovery of replica set failures.

What is Apache Cassandra?

Apache Cassandra is a distributed NoSQL database management system that can handle massive amounts of data across multiple servers while ensuring high availability and fault tolerance. 

It’s particularly suited for applications that require real-time performance, high write throughput, and linear scalability.

Cassandra is used to store and manage time-series data, IoT (Internet of Things) data, and sensor data. It also facilitates user activity tracking, maintaining catalogs and product databases, and messaging systems.

Key Features:

The non-relational database has the following features:

  • Distributed Architecture: Cassandra’s decentralized architecture ensures data distribution across nodes. Every node can act as a coordinator, enhancing fault tolerance and preventing single points of failure.
  • Column-Family Model: Organizes data into column families, enabling efficient querying and storage for structured data.
  • Flexible Schema: While structured, it accommodates dynamic and varied data models.
  • Partition and Clustering Keys: Partition keys distribute data across multiple nodes, while clustering keys determine row order within partitions.
  • High Write Throughput: Built to handle a high volume of write operations.
  • Linear Scalability: Cassandra scales horizontally, allowing you to add multiple master nodes as data grows without compromising performance.
  • Tunable Consistency: Offers configurable consistency levels, balancing data consistency and availability according to application needs.
  • Geographical Distribution: Supports data center replication for global distribution and disaster recovery.
  • Continuous Availability: Provides automatic data repair and management, ensuring data remains available even during failures.

Cassandra vs MongoDB: A Detailed Comparison

Here’s a table highlighting the main differences between MongoDB and Apache Cassandra:

MongoDB vs. Cassandra

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Let’s take a closer look at how the two NoSQL databases differ:

Data Model

MongoDB uses a flexible and rich JSON-like data format called BSON (Binary JSON). Documents are organized into collections, which are similar to tables in relational databases. However, collections do not enforce a fixed schema, meaning different documents in the same collection can have varying fields.

Cassandra uses a columnar storage format. Data is organized into tables with rows and columns, making it more suitable for structured data. While tables have a predefined schema, each row can have a different number of columns. This allows for flexibility in terms of data structure.

Consistency and Availability

MongoDB

MongoDB provides tunable consistency levels, allowing you to configure how strict or relaxed the consistency of data reads and writes should be.

By default, MongoDB prioritizes consistency and partition tolerance (CP) in its consistency model. This means that MongoDB will attempt to maintain data consistency in the event of network partitions or node failures, even if it might impact availability.

MongoDB offers replica sets, which are groups of database instances that store the same data. In a replica set, one node is designated as the primary node or master node, responsible for handling write operations. Secondary nodes replicate data from the primary and can be configured for read operations.

MongoDB allows you to configure read preferences, letting you choose between consistency and availability when reading data from secondary nodes.

Cassandra

Cassandra has availability and partition tolerance (AP), favoring availability and fault tolerance in the face of network partitions. This means that in the event of network partitions, Cassandra might return data that is not up-to-date (eventual consistency).

The database also enables geographically distributed data so teams can distribute data across multiple geographic regions for improved performance and disaster recovery.

Its architecture is designed to ensure that the database remains available even in the presence of node failures. You can configure consistency levels per read or write operation. This enables you to balance the trade-off between data consistency and availability based on specific use cases.

Deployment

Deployment options for MongoDB:

  • Self-hosted On-Premise: You can install and manage MongoDB on your own servers or data centers, giving you complete control over the hardware and configuration. This is suitable for organizations with the resources and expertise to manage their own infrastructure.
  • MongoDB Atlas: Atlas is a fully managed database service provided by MongoDB. It offers a cloud-based deployment option and supports multiple cloud providers, automatic backups, scaling, security features, and monitoring.
  • Managed Services: Managed service providers offer MongoDB hosting with varying levels of management and customization. 

Deployment options for Cassandra:

  • Self-hosted On-Premise: Like MongoDB, you can set up and manage your own Cassandra clusters on your infrastructure. This gives you control over the hardware and configurations.
  • Cloud Services: Various cloud providers offer Cassandra as a managed service, such as Amazon Keyspaces and DataStax Astra. These services simplify setup, scaling, and management tasks.
  • Managed Services: Some third-party companies provide managed Cassandra hosting, offering services like maintenance, monitoring, and optimization.
  • Hybrid Approaches: Organizations can also choose hybrid deployment models, using a mix of on-premise and cloud-based instances to optimize for their specific needs.

Scalability

MongoDB

MongoDB enables horizontal scalability through a feature called “sharding.” Sharding involves distributing data across multiple servers or clusters called shards. Each shard can be hosted on a separate server, enabling the database to handle larger datasets and higher loads.

The database’s sharding architecture includes an automatic balancer that redistributes data across shards to ensure even data distribution and optimal performance. You can also add new shards dynamically as your data and traffic increase.

Cassandra

Cassandra’s ring-based architecture automatically divides data into partitions. These partitions are distributed across nodes in the cluster. Each node is responsible for a range of partitions.

It also uses a masterless architecture, where all nodes have equal roles in read and write operations. This means you can have multiple master nodes to run many write operations concurrently.

Data is replicated across nodes based on the replication factor defined for each keyspace, ensuring high availability and fault tolerance. You can add new nodes for better scalability.

Query Language

MongoDB

MongoDB uses MQL (MongoDB Query Language), based on a rich set of operators and methods for querying and manipulating documents in BSON format.

You can perform range queries, geospatial queries, equality checks, and even queries on embedded arrays and objects within documents.

The NoSQL database also offers a robust aggregation framework that allows you to perform complex transformations and computations on data, including grouping, filtering, sorting, and projecting.

Example MongoDB Query:

db.customers.find({ age: { $gt: 25 } }).sort({ name: 1 })

Cassandra

Cassandra uses CQL (Cassandra Query Language), which is similar to SQL in terms of syntax but adapted to Cassandra’s architecture.

The database’s query language supports SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements like SQL. It uses partition keys and clustering keys to distribute data and control row order within partitions. You can create secondary indexes to query columns other than primary keys efficiently.

CQL queries also allow you to specify consistency levels. CQL’s SQL-like syntax can be easier for those familiar with relational databases.

Example CQL Query:

SELECT * FROM users WHERE age > 25 ALLOW FILTERING;

Development and Ecosystem

MongoDB

MongoDB’s development experience is flexible and easy to use. It allows developers to work with JSON-like documents, which is familiar and intuitive. Its dynamic schema also enables rapid application development.

MongoDB offers official drivers for a wide range of programming languages, including Java, Python, Node.js, and more. It also integrates with frameworks and libraries, like Mongoose for Node.js, which simplifies data modeling and validation.

The platform has a large and active community, contributing to tutorials, forums, and third-party tools.

Cassandra

Cassandra is great for developers familiar with SQL databases since CQL is similar in syntax. They can use the database’s command-line tool for interacting using CQL statements.

However, working with Cassandra’s column-oriented architecture requires in-depth knowledge of partitions and clustering keys.

Cassandra also offers official drivers for many programming languages, including Java, Python, and C#, and libraries like DataStax Java Driver.

The database solution has a growing community, although it might be smaller than established platforms.

Security Measures

MongoDB

The database offers the following security features:

  • Authentication: MongoDB supports various authentication mechanisms, including SCRAM-SHA-1 and SCRAM-SHA-256, which require a username and password for access.
  • Authorization: It offers role-based access control (RBAC) to grant or restrict user privileges at the database or collection level.
  • Encryption: MongoDB supports data-in-transit encryption using TLS/SSL and data-at-rest encryption using WiredTiger’s encryption feature.
  • Auditing: MongoDB Enterprise includes auditing capabilities, allowing you to track and log actions like authentication, authorization, and data access.
  • IP Whitelisting: Enable connections to MongoDB only from specified IP addresses.

Cassandra

The database management system offers the following out-of-the-box security features:

  • Authentication: Cassandra supports password-based and client-to-node authentication using SASL, allowing user authentication with credentials.
  • Authorization: It provides role-based access control for defining permissions and granting access to specific keyspaces and tables.
  • Encryption: Cassandra supports SSL/TLS encryption of data-in-transit between clients and nodes.
  • Auditing: Cassandra has audit logging capabilities to record activities, which might require additional configuration.
  • IP Whitelisting: You can configure Cassandra to allow connections only from specific IP addresses.

Both databases also have documentation outlining the best practices for optimizing security and compliance. However, specific compliance certifications might depend on the deployment and additional configurations.

Performance Considerations

MongoDB

MongoDB’s performance is impacted by factors like data size, schema design, indexing, sharding, query patterns, and hardware. MongoDB provides a Benchmarking Guide to help users conduct performance testing specific to their use cases.

Developers can use optimization techniques, including index and query optimization, efficient sharding strategies, and caching layers to improve performance.

Cassandra

Cassandra’s performance depends on parameters like cluster size, data distribution, consistency levels, compression, and hardware. Benchmarks should be performed in an environment that closely resembles the production setup.

To facilitate better operations, data engineers can optimize the data model, consistency level, compaction strategy, and Java Virtual Machine (JVM) settings.

Real-world Implementations

Let’s look at some real-world examples of businesses using MongoDB and Apache Cassandra:

Forbes

Forbes has used MongoDB for their CMS (Content Management System) since 2011. Then, in 2019, the leading business magazine migrated its platform to Google Cloud and MongoDB Atlas.

The move to the cloud architecture has helped Forbes speed up their build time for new products and fixes by 58%, accelerated their release cycle, reduced the total cost of ownership, and launched seven new newsletters, which led to a 28% increase in subscription rate. 

Netflix

Netflix uses Apache Cassandra as its primary data store for all persistent data. They use the platform as the foundation for other applications that help them track user activity, viewing history, and recommendations. 

Early in 2023, they also used Cassandra to build a scalable annotation service, Marken.

Cassandra’s ability to handle high write and read loads, along with its distributed architecture, aligns well with Netflix’s requirement for real-time, low-latency data access across a massive user base.

Key Takeaways:

MongoDB is often used for flexible and evolving data structures, as in content management and applications requiring dynamic schema.

Cassandra shines in use cases demanding high write and read scalability, especially in IoT applications, real-time analytics, and recommendation engines.

Choosing Between MongoDB and Cassandra

Here are factors to consider when deciding to use MongoDB or Cassandra:

  • Data Model: Apache Cassandra is suitable if your data is mostly structured. MongoDB’s flexible schema is better if you handle unstructured data or require frequent schema changes.
  • Query Complexity: MongoDB suits applications with complex queries, including aggregation and nested data.
  • Read vs. Write: If your application demands high write throughput, real-time analytics, or IoT data, Apache Cassandra’s write scalability might be beneficial. MongoDB could be a better choice if your application focuses on complex querying, data retrieval, or read-heavy workloads.
  • Consistency vs. Availability: MongoDB’s tunable consistency levels are ideal if maintaining data consistency is critical. Cassandra’s AP characteristics are useful for applications requiring high availability and fault tolerance.

Ultimately, the choice between MongoDB and Apache Cassandra depends on your application’s specific requirements, growth projections, team expertise, and operational preferences. 

It’s recommended to prototype and perform small-scale tests with both databases to evaluate their performance and suitability for your use case before making a final decision.

MongoDB, Cassandra, and Airbyte: Bridging the Integration Gap

Whether you use MongoDB or Cassandra for your projects, you need to be able to efficiently collect and load source data to your databases. This is done using data connectors. Connectors are also vital for data transfer between different applications and databases. 

Enter Airbyte, a universal data integration platform. It has 350+ connectors that simplify data synchronization between MongoDB, Cassandra, and other data destinations. Using these pre-built connectors, developers no longer have to individually pull data from each source to their database management tool.

Instead, they can deploy no-code data pipelines in minutes to quickly extract data from applications and load them into storage. You can also build custom connectors in 10 minutes using our no-code Connector Builder.

Conclusion

MongoDB excels with its flexible, schema-less data model and dynamic querying capabilities. On the other hand, Apache Cassandra’s column-oriented data model and SQL-like querying make it a strong contender for scenarios requiring high write scalability, real-time analytics, and IoT data management.

Both databases have found their niches, powering diverse applications from content-heavy platforms to real-time analytics engines. When deciding between MongoDB and Cassandra, evaluate your project’s requirements, current ecosystem, deployment options, and security features. Enhance your understanding of MongoDB by exploring another insightful article on MongoDB vs PostgreSQL. Compare and discover the best fit for your database needs

Head over to the Airbyte blog to learn more about different databases and how to capitalize on them.

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