What is a database and which one is right for me?

Do you need a better way of storing and sharing your data? Having problems keeping the integrity of your data? Then a database is just what you need. These are files created by a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) software such as Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server. There are even free online database creators that you can use.

What is a database?

It can be viewed as a collection of related records. These are usually stored in form of tables. Table cells then contain our data items. Some tables have an easier way of indexing data using special columns called keys.

Using these keys, tables can form relationships with other tables. As such, you only need to store data about one entity per table. Entities, in this case, would be real-world objects, events or anything that can be modeled such as a Student, Employee, Account, Sale and so on.

Regularly, a table is referred to as a relation. Each relation has attributes (columns) that describe the entity. Each relation record (row) describes one entity or instance of the relation.

Types of RDBMS

To get started, you will require a RDBMS software. Though there are many types of RDBMSs, they can be grouped into two flavors:
Personal DBMSs, that though not highly scalable, are still fit for use in a small business or for learning.

Enterprise DBMSs are used by large-scale organizations. They handle large volumes of data, users and are highly scalable.

What are the benefits of a database over a flat-file?

The closest computerized data storage method in use is a flat file. These are similar to files developed using a spreadsheet application. There are numerous challenges in using flat files, especially for large volumes of data. These are well handled by using a database.

1 There is no redundancy in a database like there would be in a flat file. This leads to smaller file sizes which in the long run is more economical

2 With reduced redundancy comes integrity. Users only need to change data in one area and the change would be reflected throughout the entire database. In effect, this ensures efficient time usage.

3 Consistency can also be ensured in a database. A single attribute cannot be stored in a different format.

Are there any challenges to using a database?

As with all other technological advancements, some challenges can be expected.
1 Without proper training, new developers find the process of breaking down data and relating tables as complex. This advanced data structuring process is not however overwhelming to learn.

2 Cost, especially for a business database is also of concern. RDBMS requires financial resources which may increase as changes are implemented. However, adopting an online business database and cloud computing, in general, can help mitigate these costs.

Picking the right database

There might not be a best database software for all users. Each user selects an RDBMS based on their intended purpose. Start by assessing your current needs. This will include the number of users, expected volumes of data, your budget and estimated future requirements. For a small business, you might need to look any further than Microsoft Access, which can handle a decent volume of data and over twenty concurrent users. Corporate databases would probably go for the more advanced, Oracle. Nonetheless, storing data in a database would vastly improve your efficiency.