Shard (database architecture) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Horizontal partitioning is a design principle whereby rows of a database table are held separately, rather than splitting by columns (as for normalization). Each partition forms part of a shard, which may in turn be located on a separate database server or physical location. The advantage is the number of rows in each table is reduced (this reduces index size, thus improves search performance). If the sharding is based on some real-world aspect of the data (e.g. European customers vs. American customers) then it may be possible to infer the appropriate shard membership easily and automatically, and query only the relevant shard. 
Sharding is in practice far more difficult than this. Although it has been done for a long time by hand-coding (especially where rows have an obvious grouping, as per the example above), this is often inflexible. There is a desire to support sharding automatically, both in terms of adding code support for it, and for identifying candidates to be sharded separately.
Where distributed computing is used to separate load between multiple servers (either for performance or reliability reasons) a shard approach may also be useful here.