Amazon DynamoDB: 10 Things You Should Know

Amazon DynamoDB is a managed NoSQL service with strong consistency and predictable performance that shields users from the complexities of manual setup.

Whether or not you’ve actually used a NoSQL data store yourself, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you fully understand the key design differences between NoSQL (including Amazon DynamoDB) and the more traditional relational database (or “SQL”) systems like MySQL.

First of all, NoSQL does not stand for “Not SQL“, but “Not Only SQL“. The two are not opposites, but complementary. NoSQL designs deliver faster data operations and can seem more intuitive, while not necessarily adhering to the ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability) properties of a relational database.

There are many well-known NoSQL databases available, including MongoDB, Cassandra, HBase, Redis, Amazon DynamoDB, and Riak. Each of these was built for a specific range of uses and will therefore offer different features. We could group these databases into the following categories: columnar (Cassandra, HBase), key-value store (DynamoDB, Riak), document-store (MongoDB, CouchDB), and graph (Neo4j, OrientDB).

In this post, I’m going to focus on Amazon DynamoDB the giant of the NoSQL world. I believe it’s become a giant because AWS built it for their own operations. Considering how much was at stake financially, anything less than complete reliability would simply not be tolerated. Software created in such a demanding environment and with the use of AWS-scale resources is bound to be epic. The result? Fantastic reliability and durability, with blazing fast service.

Like any other AWS product, Amazon DynamoDB was designed for failure (i.e., it has self-recovery and resilience built in). That makes DynamoDB a highly available, scalable, and distributed data store. Here are ten key features that helped make Amazon DynamoDB into a giant.

1. Amazon DynamoDB is a managed, NoSQL database service

With a managed service, users only interact with the running application itself. You don’t need to worry about things like server health, storage, and network connectivity. With Amazon DynamoDB, AWS provisions and runs the infrastructure for you. Some of DynamoDB’s critical managed infrastructure features include:

  • Automatic data replication over three availability-zones in a single region.
  • Infinitely scalable read-write I/O running on IOPS-optimized solid state drives.
  • A provisioned-throughput model where read and write units can be adjusted at any time based on actual application usage.
  • Data backed up to S3.
  • Integrated with other AWS services like Elastic MapReduce (EMR), Data Pipeline, and Kinesis.
  • Pay-per-use model – you never pay for hardware or services you’re not actually using.
  • Security and access control can be applied using Amazon’s IAM service.
  • Great enterprise-ready features such as a robust SLA, monitoring tools, and private VPN functionality.

2. Amazon DynamoDB has Predictable Performance

AWS claims that DynamoDB will deliver highly predictable performance. Considering Amazon’s reputation for service delivery, we tend to take them at their word on this one. You can actually control the quality of the service you’ll get by choosing between Strong Consistency (Read-after-Write) or Eventual Consistency. Similarly, if a user wants to increase or decrease the Read/Write throughput they’ll experience, they can do it through simple API calls. Amazon DynamoDB also offers what they call Provisioned Capacity, where you can “bank” up to five minutes of unused capacity, which, like the funds in an emergency bank account, you can use during short bursts of activity.

3. Amazon DynamoDB is designed for massive scalability

Being an AWS product, you can assume that Amazon DynamoDB will be extremely scalable. With their automatic partitioning model, as data volumes grow, DynamoDB spreads the data across partitions and raises throughput. This requires no intervention from the user.

4. Amazon DynamoDB data types

DynamoDB supports following data types:

  • Scalar – Number, String, Binary, Boolean, and Null.
  • Multi-valued – String Set, Number Set, and Binary Set.
  • Document – List and Map.

Scalar types are generally well understood. We’ll focus instead on multi-valued and document types. Multi-valued types are sets, which means that the values in this data type are unique. For a months attribute you can choose a String Set with the names of all twelve months – each of which is, of course, unique.

Similarly, document types are meant for representing complex data structures in the form of Lists and Maps. See this example:

{
   Id = 100
   ProductName = "K3 Note"
   Description = "5.5 inches screen, 4G LTE,octa-core processor, 2GB RAM and 16 GB ROM"
   MobileType = "Touch"
   Brand = "Lenovo"
   Price = 100
   Color = [ "White", "Black" ]
   ProductCategory = "Mobile"
}

5. Amazon DynamoDB’s Data Model

DynamoDB uses three basic data model units, Tables, Items, and Attributes. Tables are collections of Items, and Items are collections of Attributes.

Attributes are basic units of information, like key-value pairs. Tables are like tables in relational databases, except that in DynamoDB, tables do not have fixed schemas associated with them. Items are like rows in an RDBMS table, except that DynamoDB requires a Primary Key. The Primary Key in DynamoDB must be unique so that it can find the exact item in the table. DynamoDB supports two kinds of Primary Keys:

  • Hash Type Primary Key: If an attribute uniquely identifies an item, it can be considered as Primary. DynamoDB builds a hash index on the attribute to facilitate the uniqueness. A Hash Key is mandatory in a DynamoDB table.
  • Hash and Range Type Primary Key: This type of Primary Key is built upon the hashed key and the range key in the table: a hashed index on the hash primary key attribute, and a range sort index on the range primary key attribute. This type of primary key allows for AWS’s rich query capabilities.

6. Amazon DynamoDB indexes

There are two types of indexes in DynamoDB, a Local Secondary Index (LSI) and a Global Secondary Index (GSI). In an LSI, a range key is mandatory, while for a GSI you can have either a hash key or a hash+range key. GSIs span multiple partitions and are placed in separate tables. DynamoDB supports up to five GSIs. While creating a GSI, you need to carefully choose your hash key because that key will be used for partitioning.

Which is the right index type to use? Here are two considerations: LSIs limit item size to 10 GB, and GSIs offer only eventual consistency.

7. Amazon DynamoDB partitions

In DynamoDB, data is partitioned automatically by its hash key. That’s why you will need to choose a hash key if you’re implementing a GSI. The partitioning logic depends upon two things: table size and throughput.

Amazon DynamoDB - partitions

The partition for a table is calculated by DynamoDB. Although it is transparent to users, you should understand the logic behind this.
Amazon DynamoDB - calc
(Note: Read Capacity Units – RCU – are measured in 4KB/sec. Write Capacity Units – WCU – are measured in 1KB/sec.)
According to this formula, if we have a table size of 16 GB and we have 6000 RCUs and 1000 WCUs, then:

# of partitions by throughput: 6000/3000+1000/1000 = 3

# of partitions by size: 16/10 = 1.6

So, the # of partitions in total: max(1.6, 3) = 3

Therefore, we will require three partitions. The RCUs and WCUs will be uniformly distributed across the partitions. Here, RCUs per partition will be 3000/3 = 1000. RCUs and the WCUs will be 1000/3 = 333 WCUs. The data per partition will be 16/3 = 5.4 GB per partitions.

8. Amazon DynamoDB streams

DynamoDB streams are like transactional logs for a table. According to the DynamoDB Developer’s Guide:

A DynamoDB stream is an ordered flow of information about changes to items in an Amazon DynamoDB table. When you enable a stream on a table, DynamoDB captures information about every modification to data items in the table.

Streams are applied only to tables, and each stream record appears exactly once in a stream. AWS maintains separate endpoints for DynamoDB and DynamoDB streams. There are all kinds of scenarios where streams can be useful, such as in a messaging application where a message or picture that is updated to a group must be reflected in the message boxes of all the group members, 0r for sending welcome messages to new customers when they sign up for your service.

9. Amazon DynamoDB integration with Amazon EMR and Redshift

NoSQL and Big Data technologies are often discussed together, because they both share the same distributed and horizontally scalable architecture, and both aim to provide high volume, structured, and semi-structured data processing. In a typical scenario, Elastic MapReduce (EMR) performs its complex analysis on datasets stored on DynamoDB. Users will often also use AWS Redshift for data warehousing, where BI tasks are carried out on data loaded from DynamoDB tables to Redshift.

10. Amazon DynamoDB JavaScript Web Shell

AWS has introduced a web-based user interface known as the DynamoDB JavaScript Shell for local development. You can download the tool here.

Steps:

  • Download and extract the appropriate file
  • Run following command:
java -Djava.library.path=./DynamoDBLocal_lib -jar DynamoDBLocal.jar

Amazon DynamoDB - output

  • Access the console in a browser with the URL: http://localhost:8000/shell

The web page will look like this:

Amazon DynamoDB - interface

  • Click on the button to get some sample commands 5

For example the createTable API will run:

Amazon DynamoDB - createTable API

  • After running this, listTables will show you:

Amazon DynamoDB - listTables
This is a great tool to perform syntax checking before actually going to production.

With DynamoDB, Amazon has done a great job providing a NoSQL service with strong consistency and predictable performance, while saving users from the complexities of a distributed system. One proof of their success is the many systems (like Riak) that chose to build on the DynamoDB design. With a strong ecosystem, Amazon DynamoDB is something to consider when you are building your next Internet-based scale application.

Ready to try it for yourself? Why not use Cloud Academy’s AWS DynamoDB hands-on lab?

Avatar

Written by

Chandan Patra

Cloud Computing and Big Data professional with 10 years of experience in pre-sales, architecture, design, build and troubleshooting with best engineering practices. Specialities: Cloud Computing - AWS, DevOps(Chef), Hadoop Ecosystem, Storm & Kafka, ELK Stack, NoSQL, Java, Spring, Hibernate, Web Service


Related Posts

Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— October 14, 2020

New Content: AWS Data Analytics – Specialty Certification, Azure AI-900 Certification, Plus New Learning Paths, Courses, Labs, and More

This month our Content Team released two big certification Learning Paths: the AWS Certified Data Analytics - Speciality, and the Azure AI Fundamentals AI-900. In total, we released four new Learning Paths, 16 courses, 24 assessments, and 11 labs.  New content on Cloud Academy At any ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— September 15, 2020

New Content: Azure DP-100 Certification, Alibaba Cloud Certified Associate Prep, 13 Security Labs, and Much More

This past month our Content Team served up a heaping spoonful of new and updated content. Not only did our experts release the brand new Azure DP-100 Certification Learning Path, but they also created 18 new hands-on labs — and so much more! New content on Cloud Academy At any time, y...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— August 28, 2020

AWS Certification Practice Exam: What to Expect from Test Questions

If you’re building applications on the AWS cloud or looking to get started in cloud computing, certification is a way to build deep knowledge in key services unique to the AWS platform. AWS currently offers 12 certifications that cover major cloud roles including Solutions Architect, De...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Certifications
Patrick Navarro
Patrick Navarro
— August 25, 2020

Overcoming Unprecedented Business Challenges with AWS

From auto-scaling applications with high availability to video conferencing that’s used by everyone, every day —  cloud technology has never been more popular or in-demand. But what does this mean for experienced cloud professionals and the challenges they face as they carve out a new p...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Cloud Adoption
  • digital transformation
Avatar
Andrew Larkin
— August 18, 2020

Constant Content: Cloud Academy’s Q3 2020 Roadmap

Hello —  Andy Larkin here, VP of Content at Cloud Academy. I am pleased to release our roadmap for the next three months of 2020 — August through October. Let me walk you through the content we have planned for you and how this content can help you gain skills, get certified, and...

Read more
  • alibaba
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • content roadmap
  • Content updates
  • DevOps
  • GCP
  • Google Cloud
  • New content
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— August 5, 2020

New Content: Alibaba, Azure AZ-303 and AZ-304, Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Foundation, Python 3 Programming, 16 Hands-on Labs, and Much More

This month our Content Team did an amazing job at publishing and updating a ton of new content. Not only did our experts release the brand new AZ-303 and AZ-304 Certification Learning Paths, but they also created 16 new hands-on labs — and so much more! New content on Cloud Academy At...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— July 16, 2020

Blog Digest: Which Certifications Should I Get?, The 12 Microsoft Azure Certifications, 6 Ways to Prevent a Data Breach, and More

This month, we were excited to announce that Cloud Academy was recognized in the G2 Summer 2020 reports! These reports highlight the top-rated solutions in the industry, as chosen by the source that matters most: customers. We're grateful to have been nominated as a High Performer in se...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • blog digest
  • Certifications
  • Cloud Academy
  • OWASP
  • OWASP Top 10
  • Security
  • VPCs
Avatar
Cloud Academy Team
— July 9, 2020

Which Certifications Should I Get?

The old AWS slogan, “Cloud is the new normal” is indeed a reality today. Really, cloud has been the new normal for a while now and getting credentials has become an increasingly effective way to quickly showcase your abilities to recruiters and companies. With all that in mind, the s...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Certifications
  • Cloud Computing
  • Google Cloud Platform
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— July 2, 2020

New Content: AWS, Azure, Typescript, Java, Docker, 13 New Labs, and Much More

This month, our Content Team released a whopping 13 new labs in real cloud environments! If you haven't tried out our labs, you might not understand why we think that number is so impressive. Our labs are not “simulated” experiences — they are real cloud environments using accounts on A...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— June 19, 2020

Kickstart Your Tech Training With a Free Week on Cloud Academy

Are you looking to make a jump in your technical career? Want to get trained or certified on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, DevOps, Kubernetes, Python, or another in-demand skill? Then you'll want to mark your calendar. Starting Monday, June 22 at 12:00 a.m. PDT (3:00 a.m. EDT), ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • cloud academy content
  • complimentary access
  • GCP
  • on the house
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— June 11, 2020

New Content: AZ-500 and AZ-400 Updates, 3 Google Professional Exam Preps, Practical ML Learning Path, C# Programming, and More

This month, our Content Team released tons of new content and labs in real cloud environments. Not only that, but we introduced our very first highly interactive "Office Hours" webinar. This webinar, Acing the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification, started with a quick overvie...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • DevOps
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Machine Learning
  • programming
Rebecca Willis
Rebecca Willis
— June 3, 2020

Azure vs. AWS: Which Certification Provides the Brighter Future?

More and more companies are using cloud services, prompting more and more people to switch their current IT position to something cloud-related. The problem is most people only have that much time after work to learn new technologies, and there are plenty of cloud services that you can ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • certification