What is a database?
A database is information configured for easy access, management and updating. Computer databases typically store aggregations of data records or files containing information, such as sales transactions, customer data, financial data, and product information.
Databases are used to store, maintain and access any type of data. They collect information about people, places or things. This information is gathered in one place so that it can be observed and analyzed. Databases can be thought of as an organized collection of information.
What are databases used for?
Businesses use data stored in databases to make informed business decisions. Here are some of the ways organizations use databases:
- Improve business processes. Companies collect data about business processes, such as sales, order processing, and customer service. They analyze this data to improve these processes, grow their business and increase their revenue.
- Keep track of customers. Databases often store information about people, such as customers or users. For example, social media platforms use databases to store information about users, such as names, email addresses, and user behavior. The data is used to recommend content to users and improve user experience.
- Secure personal health information. Healthcare providers use databases to securely store personal health data to inform and improve patient care.
- Store personal data. Databases can also be used to store personal information. For example, personal cloud storage is available to individual users to store media, such as photos, in a managed cloud.
Evolution of databases
Databases were first created in the 1960s. These early databases were network models where each record is linked to many primary and secondary records. Hierarchical databases were also early models. They have tree schemas with a root directory of records linked to multiple subdirectories.
Relational databases were developed in the 1970s. Object-oriented databases came next in the 1980s. Today we use Structured Query Language (SQL), NoSQL and cloud databases .
EF Codd created the relational database at IBM. It has become the standard for database systems because of its logical schema or the way it is organized. Using a logical schema separates the relational database from physical storage.
The relational database, combined with the growth of the Internet from the mid-1990s, led to a proliferation of databases. Many professional and consumer applications rely on databases.
Types of databases
There are many types of databases. They can be classified according to the type of content: bibliographic, full text, digital and images. In computer science, databases are often classified according to the organizational approach they use.
Some of the major organizational databases include the following:
Relational. This tabular approach defines data so that it can be reorganized and accessed in multiple ways. Relational databases are made up of tables. Data is placed into predefined categories in these tables. Each table has columns with at least one category of data and rows that have some instance of data for the categories that are defined in the columns. Information in a relational database about a specific customer is organized into rows, columns, and tables. These are indexed for easy searching using SQL or NoSQL queries.
Relational databases use SQL in their user and application program interfaces. A new category of data can easily be added to a relational database without having to modify existing applications. A relational database management system (RDBMS) is used to store, manage, query, and retrieve data in a relational database.
Typically, the RDBMS gives users the ability to control read/write access, specify reporting, and analyze usage. Some databases offer atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability, or ACID, compliance to ensure data is consistent and transactions are complete.
Distributed. This database stores records or files in multiple physical locations. Data processing is also distributed and replicated across different parts of the network.
Distributed databases can be homogeneous, where all physical locations have the same underlying hardware and run the same operating systems and database applications. They can also be heterogeneous. In these cases, the hardware, operating system, and database applications may be different in different locations.
Cloud. These databases are built in a public, private or hybrid cloud for a virtualized environment. Users are charged based on the amount of storage and bandwidth they use. They also benefit from on-demand scalability and high availability.. These databases can work with applications deployed as software as a service.
NoSQL. NoSQL databases are well suited when dealing with large distributed data collections. They can solve big data performance problems better than relational databases. They also analyze large unstructured datasets and data on virtual servers in the cloud very well. These databases can also be called non-relational databases.
Object oriented. These databases contain data created using object-oriented programming languages. They focus on organizing objects rather than actions and data rather than logic. For example, an image data record would be a data object, rather than an alphanumeric value.
Graphic. These databases are a type of NoSQL database. They store, map, and query relationships using concepts from graph theory. Graph databases consist of nodes and edges. Nodes are entities and connect nodes.
These databases are often used to analyze interconnections. Graph databases are often used to analyze data about customers as they interact with a business on web pages and on social media.
Graph databases use SPARQL, a declarative programming language and protocol, for analysis. SPARQL can do all the analysis that SQL can do and can also be used for semantic analysis or examining relationships. This makes it useful for performing analysis on datasets containing both structured and unstructured data. SPARQL allows users to perform analyzes on information stored in a relational database, as well as friend-of-friend relationships, PageRank, and shortest path.
What are the components of a database?
Although different types of databases vary in terms of schema, data structure, and the data types that suit them best, they are all made up of the same five basic components.
- Equipment. This is the physical device on which the database software runs. Database hardware includes computers, servers, and hard drives.
- Software. The database software or application gives users control over the database. Database management system (DBMS) software is used to manage and control databases.
- Data. This is the raw information that the database stores. Database administrators organize data to make it more meaningful.
- Data access language. It is the programming language that controls the database. The programming language and the DBMS must work together. One of the most common database languages is SQL.
- Procedures. These rules determine how the database operates and how it handles data.
What are the database challenges?
Setting up, operating, and maintaining a database presents common challenges, such as the following:
- Data Security is necessary because data is a valuable business asset. Protecting data stores requires skilled cybersecurity personnel, which can be costly.
- Data integrity ensures that the data is reliable. Achieving data integrity is not always easy because it means restricting access to databases only to people qualified to handle them.
- Database performance requires regular database updates and maintenance. Without the proper support, the functionality of the database may decline as the technology supporting the database changes or the data it contains changes.
- Database integration can also be difficult. This may involve integrating data sources from different database types and structures into a single database or across data lakes and data warehouses.
What is a Database Management System?
A DBMS allows users to create and manage a database. It also helps users create, read, update, and delete data in a database, and it supports logging and auditing functions.
DBMS provides physical and logical independence from data. Users and applications do not need to know the physical or logical locations of data. A DBMS can also limit and control database access and provide different views of the same database schema to multiple users.
Learn more about the data management status today and how databases fit into it.