Table of Contents
- What is a Database?
- Database Management and Types of Database Management
- What Are Databases Used For?
- Lesson Summary
To answer the question what is a database, it's important to understand the concept of data. Data are units of information, such as facts and statistics, that when analyzed in digital form, can provide insight for business purposes and scientific discovery. Therefore, a database is a computer structure that saves, organizes, protects, and delivers data.
Essentially, a database is an online container that houses data, just as a library houses books. Databases are commonly represented by a cylindrical diagram and are comprised of database schema which are objects such as tables and columns.
Structured query language, or SQL, is a programming language that is used in database management systems to edit, remove, and request information. SQL turns large amounts of data into usable information by inquiring, manipulating, and organizing the data sets and has become the standard for programming data management systems due to its easy user accessibility and efficiency.
While the computers and database systems used today are highly advanced, database systems started on paper when people would write down important information and store it in hand-written columns and tables. As technology advanced, so did the concept of a database.
In the 18th century, punch cards were developed to originally help program machines. These physical pieces of paper held data according to holes placed on the card. Data was stored in specific patterns on the cards and presented information based on the presence or absence of a punch hole. IBM took this basic system and doubled the amount of data a card could hold. This technological advancement led the way for companies like UNIVAC to completely transfer data to computers and away from punch cards.
In the 21st century, almost all computer systems are beyond punch card technology, but punch cards are still used in events like political voting.
A database management system, or DBMS, is a system that contains databases. This system allows a user to store, organize, and retrieve information from a computer. Some of these systems are designed as single-user systems and include:
While most computer users are familiar with single-user systems, there are more complex databases that allow for multiple users and advanced security. See the list below for more types of database examples.
Relational Database Management Systems, or RDBMS, are the most common database management systems and are characterized by the following:
Normalization organizes data by breaking it up into the smallest possible parts. For example, instead of putting someone's full name in one cell, normalization asks you to separate the name by first and last which will allow a user to sort and search that data in smaller sections.
Object-oriented databases are the most innovative structures for storing data as they do not follow the table/row/column approach. Essentially, object-oriented databases build bookshelves of elements where a user can access the data on each shelf. The system will scan the bookshelves and search for specific books to find the data a user is seeking.
SQL databases, such as NoSQL, work in the same way as object-oriented databases in that they do not follow the table/row/column approach. However, SQLs specifically store data in a denormalized way which means they store and group data in large chunks and point a user in the direction of the needed data. This type of data processing allows a user to access large quantities of data at a time.
A network database is where multiple pieces of data can connect to a single record and those overarching records, or parent records, can connect to other records. Think of this type of system like a tree with multiple branches or a spider's web with multiple intersectional points. With a network database, you can connect data through multiple relationships which means a user can access and organize the data in multiple ways.
A graph database, sometimes known as a graph-oriented database, is used for large sets of distributed data and is typically used to analyze relationships between data sets. It's considered a non-relational database because it uses graphs instead of tables.
The graph database uses nodes and edges to store and organize data. Nodes are used to represent entities such as people, and edges are used to build the connections between the nodes.
While each database is different, a programmer can use UML (Unified Modeling Language) to connect databases and allow databases to speak to each other. This process synchronizes the information within different databases and analyzes relational data relevant to the project in question. In turn, the software will create diagrams to help a user better understand and analyze data sets.
It's clear databases are used in business, but what are databases used for in everyday life? Since databases house information in various ways and can be used to edit, store, and organize any data a user wishes to collect, it seems programmers aren't the only people using databases on a daily basis. See the list below for common/everyday database uses.
While they might feel like the same concept, databases and spreadsheets are different. Spreadsheets are electronic forms or ledgers that aim to store data and make basic tables and calculations. Databases are able to complete the same tasks, but the way in which they house the data is the key difference.
Spreadsheets store the values in cells, whereas databases store values in tables. While they both contain data, databases can store a lot more data than spreadsheets, and they create more complex relationships between the data stored in the system.
For example, you could create a spreadsheet of patients at a hospital. This could include names, appointment dates, demographic information, etc. But say you wanted to house that information along with doctor's notes, test results, and upcoming appointments. A database would allow all of that information to be housed and edited in one spot and each aspect of the system would speak to the others. Think of a spreadsheet as a 2-D model, whereas a database is a 3-D interactive system.
There are many types of database software. Here are the most commonly used DBMS on the web today:
Since databases collect, store, and organize data, businesses can use these systems to improve productivity. Here are a few ways using databases effectively can improve business performance:
While it's clear databases have made living easier when it comes to documenting and business strategy, databases are not perfect. Here are a few ways in which databases are failing to meet the mark:
When choosing a database for business, it's important to consider these flaws and look at the reliability rates of the products available, especially when it comes to privacy and performance. No system is perfect, so ensuring you find the right system for your needs is imperative when it comes to business management.
A database is a computer structure that saves, organizes, protects, and delivers data and is commonly represented by a cylindrical diagram. Text databases are the simplest type of database as they use rows and columns to organize data in a process called normalization as opposed to denormalization which stores data in large chunks. Using a database management system (DBMS), a user can house databases and create relationships between data sets to help businesses better understand customers, finances, and productivity.
Types of database management systems include:
While databases may feel like a foreign concept, online television streaming, social media platforms, hospitals, and gaming platforms all use databases to run. There can be challenges when it comes to databases, such as privacy breaches, performance issues, and programmer bias, but overall, databases have made living easier and businesses run more efficiently.
So, what are the big takeaways?
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Check your knowledge of the lesson on the examples and types of databases by determining whether the following statements are true or false. For this activity, print or copy this page on a piece of paper. Write TRUE if the statement is valid and FALSE if otherwise on the blank space provided. If the statement is FALSE, write down the word or phrase that makes it wrong.
_____ 1. Desktop database programs are the most innovative structures for storing data as of today.
_____ 2. Normalization is the process of organizing data in a database by breaking up data into its smallest possible parts.
_____ 3. A library is an organized container of data, generally stored and accessed electronically from a computer system.
_____ 4. Text databases are intended for a single user and provides the ability to store large amounts of data while keeping manageable system performance.
_____ 5. A number of schemas create a database and multiple databases can be created on a single server.
_____ 6. A database is typically represented by a cylindrical diagram.
_____ 7. An operational database provides support for transaction processing especially in managing, changing and storing data in real time.
_____ 8. Warehouse databases are designed for query and analysis of business performance and long-term changes.
_____ 9. NoSQL specifically attempts to simplify bookshelves by storing data in a normalized way.
_____ 10. Object-oriented databases are the most common database systems.
For False answers, the correct word or phrase is written in italic right next to the incorrect word for comparison.
1. FALSE, Desktop database programs, NoSQL and object-oriented databases
3. FALSE, library, Databases
4. FALSE, Text databases, Desktop database programs
9. FALSE, normalized, denormalized
10. FALSE, Object-oriented databases, Relational databases
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