Chapter 11. Case Study: Migrating to a New Database

For the second of our two case study chapters, we’ll explore a refactor carried out by a group of engineers from the product engineering team and infrastructure teams at Slack. The project was built on the consolidation of our channel membership tables discussed in the previous chapter. If you haven’t read through the first case study yet, I recommend you do so; there’s important context you’ll want to understand to get the most out of this chapter.

Unlike the previous case study, which was primarily motivated by performance, this one was chiefly driven by Slack’s need to enable greater flexibility in the product. Having channel memberships tied to distinct workspace shards made it difficult for us to build more complex features stretching beyond single workspaces. We wanted to enable complex organizations with multiple workspaces to collaborate seamlessly within the same set of channels and facilitate communication between distinct Slack customers, allowing companies to coordinate with their vendors directly within the application. To unlock this ability, we needed to reshard channel membership data by user and channel rather than by workspace. This refactor illustrates the many challenges that come with large-scale database migrations, multi-quarter projects, and heavily cross-functional engineering efforts.

The refactor was successful because ...

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