TechPublished December 11, 2023

How to Migrate from Airtable to PostgreSQL to Increase Your Data Stability and Power

Tips from CornerUp on why they moved their databases to SQL and how it’s impacted their business

Wren Noble

Wren Noble

Head of Content

How to Migrate from Airtable to PostgreSQL to Increase Your Data Stability and Power

At a certain point in the growth of your business, the stability and power of your data sources become non-negotiable. You may begin with a tool like Airtable, which gives you speed and flexibility when experimenting and validating new ideas. However, you will grow out of it once your workflows become mission-critical.

The trick is figuring out when and how to efficiently migrate your data source to a more sophisticated backend tool like PosgreSQL. Migrating to a more robust SQL database will help you handle more data and provide more stability to your apps so your business can continue to grow.

Airtable’s 2023 pricing updates have catalyzed a lot of business users to consider making a change to a more stable data source. They suddenly have less power and more costs while their business grows and needs more from its data. For many of those users, especially those who are building Glide apps for important business uses, it’s likely time to think about your next step after Airtable anyway. 

CornerUp founder Harrison Azizi and product manager Agustin Perez Aquino built critical Glide apps to support their thriving wholesale business supplying the many bodegas of New York City. They’re a great example of how to strike a strategic balance between nimble Airtable-based tools and robust Postgres-supported infrastructure. 

Since adopting Postgres, “I think our velocity of experimentation has increased 10x,” said Harrison. “The fact that we can just plug in our live data and do anything we want means we can now ship things much quicker with stability and good infrastructure. That's foundational for us as a company because we're basically as good as our experiments.”

Here are some tips to help you plan and successfully execute your SQL migration.

Identify when you need the capabilities of PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL (also called Postgres) is a highly stable open-source relational database that lets you store and query large quantities of data and connect that data to your software. It costs less to run than Airtable, but you’ll need a little more technical skill to get it up and running. 

Setting up your new backend infrastructure and migrating your business apps to Postgres can take some work, but it will set you up to build better business apps on Glide in the long run. “I'll say one thing,” said Harrison, “I wish we did it sooner.”

You’re pushing Airtable’s limits

You may have outgrown the capabilities of Airtable if the new plan limits change what you can do with your apps.

Airtable Pro has been replaced by Team, which reduces a lot of former capabilities for users. Users will have to either limit their Airtable data sources or move up to the next plan level, more than doubling their costs. Reduced features include:

  • 100,000 API calls instead of unlimited.

  • 25,000 automation runs, half of their former capability.

  • Attachment space halved from 20 GB to 10 GB.

  • No more access to multi-source syncing.

PostgreSQL, is free to license, the primary cost being hosting somewhere like AWS (Amazon Web Services). However, depending on your team's technical skill, you may need to enlist the help of a developer or two to get your back end running. 

Airtable’s row limits range from 1,000 on the free plan to 125,000 on the most expensive plan. You’ll quickly hit the limitations of these plans if you’re trying to run data-heavy business functions on your apps. 

You can’t afford to lose data

When you hit row limits or automation run limits in your data source, you risk disconnecting or losing data. CornerUp started hitting a ceiling with Airtable once they began to run additional workflows and analytics.

“If we got to the automation run limit, and it's kind of difficult to know when you're going to hit it, we just couldn't get any new orders into the system and into all the apps that we had,” explained Harrison, “so we were stuck until they renewed all of our automation runs for the next month. We couldn’t run the business.”

“We'd be forced to parse out data, put in a new database, reconnect things,” he added, “It was extremely unstable. We were losing data, and losing data for us is like losing orders, which is not a good thing.” 

You need to build more scalable software

As you grow and create more applications that serve a broader user base, you need a backend that can scale with you. For CornerUp, combining an extensive catalog, order data, delivery data, and customer data necessitated switching to Postgres so they could manage all their data and the automations to run on it.

“The second big accelerant that I think was the reason for migrating is we needed to build a product for our marketplace,” he said. “In order to really build a product on the supply side, we needed a real database that could support the supply side of the business.”

With Postgres, they could increase the scope of their apps to serve their entire customer base as it grew, enabling them to push their business to a bigger market.

You want a stable customer-facing tool

Stability is also essential if you have a customer-facing app. CornerUp created a wholesale ordering and order tracking system for the bodegas they worked with. Their app needed to be 100% reliable to maintain customers' trust. 

Increased customer stability made it worth investing the time to create that app on Postgres. “We needed a real database that could support the supply side of the business,” Harrison said. “Anything that's customer-facing, we're going to productize it and make it stable and nice to use.”

Prototype workflows and validate use cases with Airtable

Efficiently migrating to Postgres also involves identifying where you don’t need to put in the extra effort to build a SQL backend. Data sources like Airtable still have critical applications when making business tools.

You can spin up a Glide app based on Airtable data quickly to validate an idea or try out a new workflow. “We try to test with the lowest effort possible first and validate, and then find the limits and push through that,” said Agustin.

“Then if it makes sense, or if we find any limitations, we can push it to Postgres,” added Harrison. When you do create a successful app idea on Postgres, you’ll already have a blueprint for your structure, so you can build it more efficiently. “When we actually built it, an engineer basically copied everything we did in Airtable,” he said. “That was very helpful.”

Migrate your systems to PostgreSQL databases

When you’re ready to begin building Glide apps on Postgres, these strategies can help you build better apps without creating an overwhelming amount of work.

Move your apps and workflows in stages, not all at once

When migrating your apps to Postgres, focus on one tool or database at a time. Also, remember that you’ll be transferring over all the workflows attached to that data. “It's one thing if you're just migrating data, but when you have a ton of dependencies — the automations and the integrations — that's when it becomes a big issue,” said Augustin. “Don't do it all at once.”

The challenge of building on Postgres is another reason you shouldn’t wait until you’ve entirely outgrown Airtable to begin the transition. “It's not an easy thing to do,” he added. “We had a PM that used to say it's like open heart surgery.” It will be less work if you move before you have too many essential systems that your business relies on.

Get support to create more powerful tools on top of your data

Take advantage of Postgres's added power to build sophisticated workflows and tools that help your team be more proactive with your data. Enlisting the support of tools like Neon, which helps you set up a Postgres database, and Avenue, which assists in creating automations, will help you create those workflows more efficiently.

CornerUp uses Avenue to run SQL queries to create an incident tracking system for field ops management. They get messages via Slack when a supplier cancels an order, changes a delivery date, or places an order with a low fill rate. 

“It's keeping us on top of things and being more proactive instead of solving issues downstream,” said Harrison. “It reads the Postgres database, listens for certain events, and then, via webhook, these incidents are logged via Glide. We have our Postgres data as the database to search for stores and orders and all that stuff. It's all connected.”

Staying informed with the help of this app helps them offer better service to their customers. “It's a good combination, this Avenue-Glide combo,” he said, “and it's working well for us. We have incidents that our team is actively logging, and they're leveraging the Postgres data to do that.”

Scale your business capabilities with Glide apps build on PostgreSQL databases

In some ways, the squeeze Airtable’s pricing increase has put on businesses is an opportunity. Switching the data source of your Glide apps to PostgreSQL as a database unlocks powerful new capabilities for your business tools. 

Glide empowers you to build intuitive and functional user interfaces for your business tools. PostgreSQL helps you handle higher volumes of data and run more sophisticated workflows. “The Glide UI plus these workflows is honestly way better than anything we'd be able to build ourselves,” said Agustin. Together, they will unlock bigger opportunities for your business. 

Using Glide and Postgres to create stable, reliable supply-side software to present to customers, CornerUp has become more scalable and more sustainable than it ever could have been on Airtable. They anticipate continued growth and success. “We have a bunch of things on the roadmap,” said Harrison.

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