What is a Database?

The basic definition of a database is a system that helps collect and organize data. That data consists of various facts or other points that are related to the subject the database focuses on. For instance, the data contained by a customer service management database could consist of customer names, addresses, purchase histories and other relevant information. 

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Databases store data in a computer system and make it easy to sort through information. Some of the most common databases store information in rows and columns within tables. Unlike spreadsheets, which hold relatively limited amounts of information, databases can hold massive quantities of data while also allowing multiple users to access and edit that data at the same time. 

In addition to the database itself, a database management system is also important. This consists of the software that allows you to edit, add to and manage the database. Some common database management systems include OracleFileMaker and Airtable. Together, a database and database management system can help keep a business well-organized, allowing it to use its data in the most effective way possible. 

Who Uses a Database?

Businesses can use databases to better organize and use their data, which has a number of benefits. Databases can help businesses assess performance and make informed decisions. A business might use its database to build better relationships with customers, implement more effective marketing, assess the performance of new products or offers and much more.  

Databases fulfill many roles, some of which may benefit from basic or even advanced database skills. 

For instance, marketing professionals may use databases to oversee marketing campaigns, nurses might use electronic healthcare record databases to manage patient data, and customer service representatives may access and input customer data through databases. 

The increased use of and reliance on databases has led to more database-specific positions, like database administrator careers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. These database administrators often work in businesses like educational institutions and insurance companies and help oversee database performance and security.

Different Database Types

There are many types of databases and they all work in different ways. The best type of database for a business will depend on its focus and how it will  store and make use of the data. Additionally, as some businesses grow, they may need to use more than one type of database for different applications to make maintenance and debugging simpler. 

Many variables come into play when a business is trying to choose the right database(s). Some common types include: 

  • Relational databases.
  • Distributed databases.
  • Object-oriented databases.
  • Open-source databases.
  • Cloud databases.

Relational Database

Relational databases store information as tables with rows and columns of data. These databases allow multiple users to access data at the same time, for data recovery after a failure and for the database to operate on multiple platforms. MySQL, Oracle and the Microsoft SQL Server are all common examples of relational databases. Relational databases are popular and are used by large and small companies, including startups. 

Distributed Database 

While many databases consist of a centralized collection of data, distributed databases take a different approach. These databases are made up of two or more files, and those files are stored in different locations—sometimes on completely different networks. Users can still access and edit data, but the files also need to be synchronized. This type of database offers a major advantage in file security because if one site fails, data can still be retrieved from the second site. Examples of distributed databases include ApacheAmazon SimpleDB and FoundationDB

Object-Oriented Database

An object-oriented database stores data as objects and is based on a type of object-oriented programming like C++, Java, Python or JavaScript. Object databases offer many benefits, including the ability to handle complex data, quick access to that data and more efficient coding than other database types. Common object-oriented databases include Cache, ConceptBase, ObjectDB Object Database and Versant Object Database. These types of databases are often used in situations where fast results and calculations are necessary, such as in telecommunications, molecular science and 3D architecture and engineering. 

Open-Source Databases

Open-source databases are community databases made available to the public for free. Businesses can access and modify the database’s source code, providing the opportunity for customization. Many open-source databases offer data security and data collaboration features and support across multiple platforms. The flexibility and customization options make open-source databases practical for a wide array of businesses, though they’re often used for marketing, customer service and employee relations.

Cloud Databases

Cloud databases are hosted on a cloud computing platform. That cloud platform can be a public, private or hybrid platform. Cloud databases depend less on hardware, and as a result tend to be much easier to scale. Because businesses don’t need to focus on expensive upgrades, cloud databases are often more economical. They may also offer enhanced security. Common cloud databases include Oracle, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. 

Tips and Tools for Learning Databases

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Learning how to use databases may take time, but there are ways to speed the process. From helping you to understand the basics of how databases operate to detailed guidance on how to use specific databases, these tools and resource 

Last updated: January 2021