I recently migrate a PostgreSQL DB from an ubuntu server VM to Azure PostgreSQL. If you use this DBaaS before, you may have noticed you need to add @<my_instance_name> after your login. For exemple if you create a test_azure_db, your url for this PostgreSQL instance is test_azure_db.postgres.database.azure.com. And imagine the name of your user is remi, to login you need to do psql -h test_azure_db.postgres.database.azure.com -U remi@test_azure.

I don’t know what sort of magic Azure is doing, but it gave me an idea. You are a software editor company. Every company now have a SaaS product. But then you have this client, that have special needs, so you create a db for him. And then, Sales sell access to the db (or a replica) “for BI purpose” they say. But, hey, in PostgreSQL there are no way to limit the db a user can see. Plus this client want to be superuser, you know, reasons.

What if you could have multiple db, completly separate from each other ?

What PostgreSQL Calls A Cluster

A cluster in PostgreSQL is really different from any other software I know. A cluster in PostgreSQL is a disk space initialized properly in order for a PostgreSQL process to run. see the doc for a better explanation 😅.

One Cluster Per User

Now that you know what a cluster is, here is the idea : you create a new cluster for every clients. This strategy may not be sustainable if you have many clients. But in some case it might work.

I willl explain the “why” after. Once you have done the initdb, you can run your PostgreSQL. You might say :

But what about ip and port ? Only one process can listen to port 5432 1. We don’t want to open 1 port for each client !!.

And you’re right 🤗. You will have to do some proxing. Proxing create a SPOF, but it also allow you to make change in the cluster with minimal downtime (blue/green deployment). And remember that the proxy will be stateless, so you can spawn an instance if it crash without any concern. Also note that the proxy could do TLS endpoint. I said endpint, not termination. It’s 2019, please use valid certificate, between you’re app and the proxy and between the proxy and the db. I don’t believe in fortress, middle age is over.

Modus operandi For A New Cluster

Every step I mention here should be automatic through a tool like ansible, puppet, salt, <whatever tool you like>

  • Start provising a big VM. With minimal root fs (10GB ?)
  • Create a hard drive per client (EBS, blockstorage, whatever) for the PostgreSQL cluster. Attach it, correctly labeled. For those who don’t know, you can label hard drive in linux like this : mkfs.ext4 -L this_super_client /dev/sda1. And you can access it in /dev/disk/by-label/this_super_client
  • Mount hard drives you provision in a known location, like /mnt/db/this_super_client
  • Init the cluster (init_db -D /mnt/db/this_super_client)
  • Create or copy configuration files (postgresql.conf, pg_hba.conf, etc…)
  • Install extension needed (Postgis, etc…)
  • Run the PostgreSQL process. You should (maybe) use a systemd unit. This PostgreSQL will run on a random port
  • Check that PostgreSQL run (important !)
  • Register PostgreSQL in the proxy config (that’s another topic !)
  • enjoy.


With this setup you’ll have a shared server, with completely separate PostgreSQL instance. The advantage I see are numerous :

  • You can fine tune the PostgreSQL process for the client use case
  • You have one partition per client. Which mean that a full partition for one client won’t affect others, unless it’s the root partition, but c’mon, you monitor it right ?
  • You can test easily
  • One VM, many clients
  • You don’t need docker
  • easy upgrade
  • easy blue/green (feature flag, whatever you call it)
  • you can have cluster in multiple versions of PostgreSQL.


There are drawback too in this approach

  • What if a PostgreSQL client takes all the ressources ? I mean ok, there are linux cgroups, but it’s not enough. I guess this approach does not fit for some heavy load use cases.
  • If a client or an attacker got access to the server, you’re fucked. But in case you’re using one db per client on a shared PostgreSQL, that’s the same stuff. If the threat model is that high, create separate VM per client.
  • You’ll provision the replica on the same server than the primary. You’ll do it at some point 😉.
  • You’ll run out of file descriptor.
  • If the VM fail, it will take more time to spawn a new VM and re-init everything. But you have a read-replica and a proxy right ?

A Word About The Proxy

Maybe we could do it with haproxy or some general TCP proxy. But I can’t see how. Instead you can use a specific proxy like pgproxy and write our own piece of code to route the query. To store the state of such an app, we could use etcd, consul, zookeeper or any other software that can keep track of config. Maybe hacking pg-pool can be done too.

This proxy could also mirror the trafic. For exemple if you want to see what is happening in a production db. Like we do in web (nginx mirror stuff)

I have no idea what are the performance of such a proxy. I tend to think that under heavy load Go will perform poorly (GC pause and that sort of things). But for this use case, it can actually be okay.

A word about docker

In this scenario I don’t see any value in docker. Docker will not simply any steps here. Maybe gathering PostgreSQL binary will be simpler but the config will be the same. You will just add another layer of complexity if you add docker in this stack, and no it is not more secure.

Use cases

  • Non-prod env, like dev etc… it’s easy to spin up a new instance (no VM start, easily scriptable).
  • Prod application that needs special treatment (custom setup, some weird extensions) but are not heavy db users.


I have no clue if this idea is realistic or not, even sustainable, technicaly and financialy, but I just wanted to write what I had in mind and expose my thought to the world.

  1. Forgot about SO_REUSEPORT for a moment please. ↩︎