Software Requirements  «Prev  Next»
Lesson 2 Databases
Objective List the functions of databases.

Database Functions

To fully comprehend the essence of a database within the digital ecosystem, it's imperative to distinguish between data and information. Data, in its raw form, represents facts or figures, a collection of potential insights that are often unorganized and context-free. When processed, structured, and interpreted, data transcends into information, which is knowledge that can influence decisions and actions. Databases are the custodians of this transformation, serving several critical functions:
  1. Data Storage: Databases provide a repository for data storage, ensuring that vast amounts of data are organized efficiently and persistently. This storage allows for quick access and retrieval, serving as the backbone of information systems.
  2. Data Management: Beyond mere storage, databases manage data, maintaining its integrity and consistency through controlled access and concurrent usage. They enforce rules and relationships within the data, preventing anomalies and preserving the sanctity of the dataset.
  3. Data Retrieval: Through the use of structured query languages, such as SQL, databases facilitate the retrieval of data. They enable users to perform complex searches that can combine numerous data points, yielding specific information tailored to user needs.
  4. Data Manipulation: Databases allow users to manipulate data, providing the means to create, update, or delete records. This dynamic nature ensures that databases are not static repositories but vibrant, evolving constructs.
  5. Transaction Processing: Databases handle transactions, ensuring that multiple operations on the data can be performed as a single unit of work, which is either entirely completed or entirely aborted, thereby maintaining data accuracy and reliability, particularly in multi-user environments.
  6. Security: Databases enforce security measures, restricting data access to authorized personnel and protecting sensitive information from unauthorized use, breaches, or attacks.
  7. Backup and Recovery: Databases are equipped with mechanisms for backup and recovery, safeguarding data against loss or corruption. They ensure that there is a way to restore data to a consistent state in the event of a failure.
  8. Data Sharing: Databases allow the sharing of data among multiple users and applications, facilitating a collaborative environment where data can be accessed concurrently in a controlled and synchronized manner.
  9. Reporting: Databases support the generation of reports, aggregating data and presenting it in a format that can be analyzed, making it a powerful tool for decision-making and strategic planning.
  10. Automation of Routine Tasks: Many routine tasks, such as indexing, data archiving, or performance tuning, are automated by the database management system, increasing efficiency and reducing the potential for human error.
  11. Data Integrity: Databases maintain data integrity by ensuring that only valid and consistent data is entered and maintained over time. They implement constraints and rules that uphold the business logic of the information they hold.

In essence, databases stand as a cornerstone of the information age, a pivotal interface between raw data and the meaningful insights derived from it. Through their multifaceted functions, they support the continuum where data evolves into information, and information, in turn, catalyzes knowledge and action.

Difference between Data and Information

To understand the role of a database, you must understand the difference between data and information. The best way to understand the difference is through the simple example of the phone book. A phone book contains data. When you look up a needed phone number, that particular portion of the data becomes information. It is that simple. Facts without meaning are data. Facts about something that you want become information. Information is the portion of data that is useful to you.

Store, search, and report

The value of data

History identifies our world's evolution by titling its eras in ages:
  1. the Stone Age,
  2. Bronze Age,
  3. Steam Age,
  4. Nuclear Age,
  5. Jet Age, and
  6. the Information Age.
These titles depict the most vital element of that time around which all human activity has revolved. Our current age, the Information Age, is so named because for the first time on the planet, information has become more valuable than all other commodities (land, wheat, steel, or gold). In highly developed countries, less than 15 percent of all workers produce tangible goods (that is, they manufacture something) and over 50 percent spend their day simply handling information. Information is more precious, then, than manufactured goods.

Working the systems

The computer, and specifically the database, has enabled information handlers to pass off the processing and storage of data to these automated systems. The same workers are now able to request information from these systems and make critical and profitable decisions as a result. Such workers are called Knowledge Workers because they know how to utilize those systems to produce information necessary for improved decisions. Higher-quality decisions result in cost savings, which means greater efficiency, resulting in increased wealth for their organizations. These decisions are all dependent on access to information which, in the Information Age, is almost always accessed through the database. The latest twist to the evolution of information access is the Internet, with its promise to broaden that access through the use of effectively designed Web pages.

Many shapes and sizes

Databases are an integral part of any Web site that goes beyond a rudimentary informational type of site. Clearly, there is a wide array of functionality that can be added to Web sites through the use of databases. You will be learning more about the types of models that databases are constructed on, as well as looking further into ways that robust database applications are leveraged for Web functionality.
In the next lesson, your task is to learn the major types of databases.