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developers at work, as a concept of mLab vs Atlas comparison
SF AppWorksJun 17, 2021 7:20:00 AM6 min read

mLab and Atlas: How They Differed and How to Migrate | SF AppWorks

Before diving into the two of MongoDB’s cloud database management system’s most critical components: mLab and Atlas, here are some considerations. Having a reliable data pipeline hinges on your database integrity. The last thing any business needs is to have their documents and related digital assets placed in jeopardy by shoddy services. 


MongoDB is one of the database management leaders across multiple platforms, and they offer comprehensive tools to help you reconcile, query, and aggregate data in a NoSQL framework. However, many web developers are often confused about how the tools differ in functionality and purpose. Understanding their power, as well as how they differ, is crucial.


This brings us to two of MongoDB’s cloud database management system’s most critical components: mLab and Atlas. Both were formerly cloud databases managed by MongoDB (MongoDB acquired mLab in 2018, with certain differences). In November, MongoDB merged the two cloud databases. This article will discuss how mLab and Atlas used to be different and how they work now after the merger. 


mLAB and Atlas: How They Differed · Before MongoDB Ended mLab


What is mLab?


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mLab used to be a cloud database that runs on cloud providers such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft Azure, as well as on platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers like Heroku. However, Heroku dropped its support for the mLab plugin as of November 10, 2020.


mLab functions much like any other MongoDB-supported database solution, but there are some differences in their support, backup, and logic that may sway you to migrate to a different data solution. mLab’s main attraction is that it is very approachable and easy to pick up; the interface is often praised for how easy it is to use. However, hidden costs are sometimes lurking in the background (depending on the tier of your plan). So it’s essential to proceed with caution when working with a limited budget. 


Related: Comparing MySQL vs. MySQL Server



mLab has numerous advantages, especially if you are already an existing MongoDB customer. One of the excellent pros of the mLab service is how automated it is. Many things like hardware failures or maintenance are handled internally by the support team at mLab, meaning users themselves do not have to dedicate much brainpower towards troubleshooting. Security patches are also taken care of by the service, so users can feel more at ease with their cybersecurity than if they were handling it themselves. 



mLab can get costly, especially if you go with a plan outside of the base one. Data transfers are included in all plan levels, as are daily backups; however, these are limited. Unlimited backups are available on their Dedicated plan. These extra charges are often the reason many are turned off by mLab despite its powerful automation tools. In many ways, however, that level of automation is what justifies mLab’s higher-tier costs. Another con is that, as mentioned above, certain providers (Heroku) have discontinued their support of the mLab plugin. This has made creating a link between mLab and Heroku a much more involved process.


Are you a future innovator looking to take your web development to the next level? Contact our team at SF AppWorks today! 


vectorial image of developer as a concept of mLab and Atlas 

What is Atlas?


Atlas is one of the proprietary services that MongoDB offers to its users. Atlas is attractive as a cloud database for many reasons, but our favorite thing about it is how it handles much of the legwork involved in hosting, patching, and providing security for clusters. This makes deployment much more straightforward.  


Related: AWS vs. Google Cloud: Which is right for you?



Atlas installation is very intuitive and seamless and usually takes just a few quick button clicks and a few minutes of your time. Atlas’ accessible user interface makes it a breeze to create new users and assign user permissions. 


Atlas is also highly scalable and can grow (or reduce) as you do. Patches and upgrades to the cluster are handled primarily by Atlas, without much need for user interaction, making it a piece of cake. Atlas also provides detailed metrics that keep you in the loop on your database and the dashboard updates in real-time to make sure you’re always up to date. 



When employing Atlas as your database solution, there is more of a learning curve than with mLab. Indexing through the database can be slightly challenging- many users report that indexing large amounts of data takes a considerable amount of time. The dashboard itself is also designed for savvy data managers, so as a beginner’s choice it can be daunting to train and work with. 


Are you ready to create rich mobile experiences? Contact our team at SF AppWorks, and we’ll show you everything you need to know!



mLab & Atlas · Migrating To MongoDB Atlas


vectorial image of man at work, as a concept of mLab and Atlas


Both of these MongoDB-as-a-Service products had more similarities than differences, which is why mLab’s engineering team was integrated into the overall MongoDB engineering organization to work on new features together. To begin migrating to MongoDB Atlas, first go to


The registration form will ask for the bare minimum information like email, mobile number, country, and company. MongoDB Atlas is great at infrastructure setup and provisioning. The entire process relies on a dynamic web interface that will walk you through different deployment options step by step, and it’s so intuitive that you don’t need any specialized knowledge. 


After you’ve logged in, you will need to build your first cluster in one of the three largest clouds. Atlas works with Google Cloud, Amazon AWS, and Microsoft Azure. Depending on which you choose, you can pick the data center location you want to use. There are options for “multi-region,” “workload isolation,” and various “replication” options to set and increase availability. Every Atlas project supports up to 25 clusters, but you should be able to host more if you contact the support and ask. You will also have to choose the proper server size, along with IO and storage capacity. While there are paid options available, we will discuss the free version in this article. 


It is free to start with MongoDB Atlas for early development, prototyping, or instruction. They don’t ask for a credit card for these uses, so you don’t have to be worried about any hidden costs. M0 Sandbox is the free edition and is limited to:

  • RAM shared
  • vCPU shared
  • 512MB storage
  • 100 max connections
  • A limit of one m- cluster per project


MongoDB Atlas is billed hourly for dedicated clusters, depending on how much you use. The rate depends on the size and number of servers you use, among other factors. MongoDB estimates that an AWS 3-node replica set of M40s run 24/7 for one month with the included 80GB of standard block storage should cost you around $947. 


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mLAb and Atlas · Need Help Discovering the Optimal Database Solution for Your App?


SF AppWorks is an innovative digital agency that is committed to helping organizations, companies, and entrepreneurs explore and develop new innovative technologies that can actively improve people’s lives. SF AppWorks can help you discover the optimal database solution for your web or mobile app. Work with us to find the right database for your app to create the best user experience possible. 


Are you a future innovator looking to take your web development to the next level? Contact our team today!