Database Software 101
A database is an electronic arsenal of data that a user builds in order to later access, review, and update particular pieces of information in a rapid and coherent manner. Whether you need a refresher on database software basics, or are looking to deepen your understanding of core concepts, read on.
What is database software?
Database software is designed to create databases and to store, manage, change, search, and extract the information contained within them. A comprehensive database software program is sometimes called a database management system.
What is database software used for?
Mainly, database software exists to protect the information in the database and ensure that it’s both accurate and consistent. Database software functions include:
- data storage
- data backup and recovery
- data presentation and reporting
- multi-user access control
- data security management
- database communication
What are the types of database software?
Database software is generally classified into six sub-types: analytical database software, data warehouse database software, distributed database software, end user database software, external database software, and operational database software.
- Analytical database software allows the user to pull data from a variety of databases and examine them for the purpose of quantitatively assessing performance (business, departmental, employee, etc.).
- Data warehouse software allows the user to pull key data from a variety of databases and store it in a central location for the purpose of deriving critical insights and reporting those insights. Data warehousing helps to ensure data integrity by readily identifying inconsistencies.
- Distributed database software involves a centralized database management system that controls information stored in a variety of locations (including the cloud, a company LAN or a network server). The distributed model is often considered the safest because of its natural data redundancy.
- End user database software stores information that is used primarily by one person (Microsoft Excel and its spreadsheets are an example. Learn more about the hidden cost of spreadsheets and why business leaders are turning to online database platforms instead.)
- External database software compiles information that must be accessed by a variety of users, often via the Internet.
- Operational database software allows the user to modify data in real-time (for purposes such as financial and customer relationship management).
What are examples of database software programs?
Some of the most well-known database software programs include:
- IBM DB2
- Microsoft Access
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft SQL Server
- Oracle RDBMS
- Quick Base
- SAP Sybase ASE
What is a relational database?
A relational database is based on the model invented by IBM’s E.F. Codd in the 1970s. Relational databases, use Structured Querying Language (SQL) and can manage a variety of transaction-oriented applications. They present data in tabular form (i.e. as a collection of tables with each table consisting of a set of columns and rows) and provide relational operators to manipulate data in tabular form.
Today, many enterprise database management systems employ relational databases. They are becoming increasingly popular for use with real-time web applications. Relational databases are beneficial especially when you want your application to handle the complicated querying, or when you want to eliminate the process of manually joining data and the routine analysis of data.
What is a non-relational database?
A non-relational database is modeled by means other than the tabular system used in the relational database. A major advantage of the non-relational database is that it can easily incorporate and store all kinds of Big Data, including unstructured and semi-structured data. However, a non-relational database just stores data without structured mechanisms to link data from different tables, and the design is generally less complex. This means you need to perform multiple queries and join data manually, which can pose challenges.
What can online database software do?
Online database software allows users to develop customized web-based applications without coding experience. It often includes editing and collaboration functionality so that team members can discuss projects and share files. Depending on the platform, the user may also be able to build forms that can be housed on a website and can deliver data directly to a database. Most online database software platforms also have advanced reporting capabilities.
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What is a desktop database?
Before complex data warehousing and before the cloud, there was the desktop database designed to run on a single machine. These solutions are simple and inexpensive, but also fairly limited in terms of data availability, storage, and functionality.
What is a web-enabled database?
The web-enabled database provides everything a standard database does, but all functionality can be utilized online, and all data can be accessed remotely and interactively. Common components of a web-enabled database system are permanent online access, a web server and firewall, and application delivery via online database software and a website. The web-enabled database system is often coupled with a desktop platform.
What is a server database?
Server databases are typically used to manage massive data stores, allowing multiple users to simultaneously access, modify, and update data and ensuring that data is reliable and consistent. While server databases are more expensive than other solutions, they are also more flexible, scalable, and powerful.
What is the difference between on premise and hosted database software?
The answer is similar to what we discussed in our application software tutorial. On premise database software is implemented at an organization’s physical location, leveraging the hardware, IT infrastructure, and support of that organization. The company’s IT department typically maintains and solves problems related to the software.
Hosted database software, also called software-as-a-service, is software that is owned, delivered, and managed remotely via the cloud by a provider separate from the purchasing organization. Many organizations license these programs at the same time, and organizations typically pay per user or via a subscription. One advantage of on premise software is that it can be customized to the individual company’s needs more easily. However, hosted database software programs generally allow users to scale up more quickly.
|Implemented at organization's physical location||Owned, delivered, and managed remotely by a provider|
|Pay for license||Pay per user via subscription|
|More customizable||Scales more quickly|
How do I choose the right database software?
There are several requirements you should consider before selecting a database management solution. As we’ve covered above, architecture is critical. Depending on what kind of data you have, a relational database may or may not be appropriate.
Your administration needs also play a major role. Do you, for instance, need change management capabilities? What about backup and recovery? Do you need these functions built-in, or can you add on products later?
Everyone agrees that data stores just keep getting larger, so scalability is also a factor that should affect your decision. When looking at database software, you should understand how growth can be managed and how the system can adapt to upgrades throughout your IT infrastructure.
Although deployment may seem light years away now, you’ll be in trouble if you don’t think through installation and the systems you need to have pre-implemented at the start of your purchase process. And speaking of deploying your new solution, will you have the essential IT skills on hand to do it successfully? Not all database administrators and app developers are created equal, and your solution might (or in the case of low-code solutions, might not) require a very specific set of technical competencies. For example, if you are implementing a non-relational database management system, a relational expert may not do.
- Architecture: Runs on single computer, simple
- Administration: Limited data availability, storage, and functionality
- Scalability: Not scalable
- Deployment: Inexpensive, but managed by the user or owner
- Architecture: Has a permanent link to the internet, a web server, and firewall
- Administration: Utilized online, and all data can be accessed remotely and interactively
- Scalability: Moderately scalable
- Deployment: Requires everything a standard database needs; usually requires desktop application
Server database software
- Architecture: Usually for massive data stores
- Administration: Multiple users to simultaneously access, modify, and update data
- Scalability: Scalable and powerful
- Deployment: More expensive, but very flexible
Hosted/online database software
- Architecture: Owned, delivered, and managed remotely via the cloud, usually SaaS
- Administration: Accessible from anywhere, provider is separate from purchasing organization
- Scalability: Easily scalable
- Deployment: Software-as-a-service, can be less expensive as it is usually licensed on a per user basis