A Timeline of Database History & Database Management

The Before Times

Human beings began to store information very long ago. The first human beings surely had to track and manage their limited resources to make informed decisions. Whether they knew they were early adopters of database management remains to be seen. Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and Sumerians, however, did know what they were doing when they pioneered accounting techniques to keep track of data and understand their day-to-day lives.

In modern times, but before the advent of widespread computing, elaborate database systems were developed by government offices, libraries (what is the Dewey Decimal System if not one of the most famous databases in history?), hospitals, and businesses. Some of the basic principles of these systems are still being used today in modern database software.


Computerized databases started in the 1960s, when the use of computers became a more cost-effective option for private organizations. The history of computers and databases are interlinked. As prices dropped it became easier to shift data storage and databases to computers.

There were two popular data models in this decade: a network model called CODASYL and a hierarchical model called IMS. One database system that proved to be a commercial success was the SABRE system that was used by IBM to help American Airlines manage its reservations data.


The Introduction of the Relational Database

E.F. Codd published an important paper that served as the introduction of the relational database, and his ideas changed the way people thought about databases. In his model, the database’s schema, or logical organization, is disconnected from physical information storage, and this became the standard principle for database systems.

Two major relational database system prototypes were created between the years 1974 and 1977, and they were the Ingres, which was developed at UBC, and System R, created at IBM San Jose. Ingres used a query language known as QUEL, and it led to the creation of systems such as Ingres Corp., MS SQL Server, Sybase, Wang’s PACE, and Britton-Lee. On the other hand, System R used the SEQUEL query language, and it contributed to the development of SQL/DS, DB2, Allbase, Oracle, and Non-Stop SQL. It was also in this decade that Relational Database Management System, or RDBMS, became a recognized term.

In 1976, new database model called Entity-Relationship, or ER, was proposed by P. Chen this year. This model made it possible for designers to focus on data application, instead of logical table structure.


Structured Query Language, or SQL, became the standard query language, selected by the American National Standards Institute in 1986 and the International Organization for Standardization in 1987.

Relational database systems became a commercial success as the rapid increase in computer sales boosted the database market, and this caused a major decline in the popularity of network and hierarchical database models. DB2 became the flagship database product for IBM, and the introduction of the IBM PC resulted in the establishments of many new database companies and the development of products such as PARADOX, RBASE 5000, RIM, Dbase III and IV, OS/2 Database Manager, and Watcom SQL.


The 1990s served a pivotal role in the advancement of databases and database software. Similar to the 1960s, a broader culture shift led to further developments in the industry. After a shakeout, most of the surviving companies sold complex database products at high prices.

Around this time, new client tools for application development were released, and these included the Oracle Developer, PowerBuilder, VB, and others. A number of tools for personal productivity, such as ODBC and Excel/Access, were also developed. Prototypes for Object Database Management Systems, or ODBMS, were created in the early 1990s.

During the middle of the decade the advent of the Internet led to exponential growth of the database industry. Average desktop users began to use client-server database systems to access computer systems that contained legacy data. As more and more users purchased personal computers and went online, there became a larger need to enhance databases.

Toward the end of the 1990s, increased investment in online businesses resulted in a rise in demand for Internet database connectors, such as Front Page, Active Server Pages, Java Servelets, Dream Weaver, ColdFusion, Enterprise Java Beans, and Oracle Developer 2000. The use of CGI, GCC, MySQL, Apache, and other systems brought open source solution to the Internet. With the increased use of point-of-sale technology, online transaction processing and online analytic processing began to come of age.

The Beginning of the NoSQL Database

Since the 1980s SQL had served as the standard query language. But in 1998 Carlo Strozzi coined the term “NoSQL” when naming his database Strozzi NoSQL. This initial offering was still relational in nature, however. It would take until 2009 for NoSQL to re-enter the industry’s vocabulary, when developer Johan Oskarsson organized an event to discuss non-relational databases. Since that point, NoSQL has remained in the zeitgeist and there are numerous databases that fit the bill.


Although the Internet industry experienced a decline in the early 2000s, database applications continued to grow. New interactive applications were developed for PDAs, point-of-sale transactions, and consolidation of vendors. Presently, the three leading database companies in the western world are Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle.


Today, databases are everywhere and are used to enhance our day-to-day life. From personal cloud storage to predicting the weather, many of the services we utilize today are possible due to databases. Presently, there are many new players in the non-relational database space offering specific solutions. Some of the current relational databases include giants such as Oracle, MySQL, and DB2. We're also seeing new trends emerging that focus on making powerful technology accessible to everyone. Quickbase is an online database platform built on a relational database, which gives users of any skill level the ability to create custom business applications using the power of a relational database, but with the simplicity of a point-and-click user interface.

The Future of Databases & Database Management

If you’ll allow us, let’s peer into the crystal ball to see what the future might hold for databases and database management. Data is the lifeblood of so many of the applications and processes that drive our world. How to collect, store, and sort a continuously growing mountain of data will be a critical question to answer for database management platforms and their developers.

Just like the beginning of the history of databases and database management, the future will be closely tied to overall developments in processing and computing. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will continue to improve and become integral parts of databases and their management. Faster and more efficient database management tools will come to market while industry standards continue to iterate based on latest developments. In the end, the future looks incredibly bright for the database industry.

Frequently Asked Questions About Database History

Q: When did computerized databases rise to prominence?

A: Computerized databases started to appear in the 1960s as computing power increased and prices decreased.

Q: When were relational databases introduced?

A: In 1970, E.F. Codd released a paper titled “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.” This paper paved the way for the relational model that would come to dominate the ensuing decades.

Q: When was the beginning of the NoSQL database?

A: The term was first coined in 1998 by Carlo Strozzi with his Strozzi NoSQL database. The term, and ensuing development of more databases in this mode, didn’t catch on widely until 2009. Developer Johan Oskarsson created an event to discuss topics related to non-relational databases.


See resources below to learn more about the history of databases. For more information on database history and structure, please visit the following links:

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