What are databases. What is the importance of database in today’s world. What are RDBMS? Many of these are questions that arise in the minds of people who are starting an education in IT or have heard these terms from people experienced in IT. I tackle some of these questions here.
In today’s world, a lot of people talk about databases. Almost all business put them to use. But a layman, or even a student who is unfamiliar with businesses, it might all seem like mumbo-jumbo.
I start this article assuming that the reader is an absolute novice and has no knowledge of these concepts. Therefore some of you might find it unnecessary wastage of time, but there will be at least some who will find it useful, and so I begin.
Before we get into what a Database is, it would help to understand what data is.
Data: In the traditional sense of the word means a random collection of numbers and characters, then when put together in a particular way can give information. As an example, if we see 10, class, students, 5 etc., it might not mean much. But when you arrange it as “There are 10 students in class 5”, this has become a useful information. The numbers 10 and 5, the words students and class are data here, which when arranged together gave us an information.
Information: As explained below, information is any ordered collection of data, that is meaningful to the observer. The sentence above of the 10 students in a class might not necessarily be an information to someone who is not aware of the system of schools and different classes in school (hypothetical situation).
In concept, information is the knowledge conveyed as a message, or information is an answer to a question.
What is a Database: Now that we have understood what data and information is, it will be easier to understand what database is.
Simply put, a database is a collection of data. Alternatively, it can be explained as a system or tool which stores data.
What is importance of a database:
Any organization that deals with any kind of transaction requires to keep track of all such transactions. If it is a school, it will need to keep records of its teachers, students, subjects taught, courses taken, fees received, salaries paid, etc. Similarly, all business need to keep track of their sales, customers etc., and banks need to keep track of its lendings, deposits, customers etc.
Traditionally these were all maintained on paper registers, or hard-copies in today’s terminology. These were a good means to keep track of information, but was very tedious. You had to make entries into many places for the same transaction an it was always tedious to find the required information.
With the advent of computer technology, a lot of these hassles were over. The data could be stored on a computer disk and retrieved as required using computer commands. This gave rise to a set of software applications called the Database Management System (DBMS). These applications simplified the process of storing and retrieving data from the computer, thus reducing the time spent going through the hard registers, and also made it more reliable.
The advent of RDBMS:
While the DBMS made the storage and retrieval of data much easier that the days of the books, it still had a lot of repetition of data and this meant that too much space was being used. Since these were the early days of computing, computer storage came with a really big price tag. Also, the repetition of data in storage meant it took longer to enter data. The above two problems were sorted by the next innovation in Database Management, called the Relational Database Management System (RDBMS). An RDBMS could store data in different tables and form relations between them. This could be used to avoid the redundancy of data in the older DBMS and thus reduced the storage requirement.
This was achieved using a process called normalization. RDBMS and Normalization will be discussed in detail in the subsequent posts.