When I tell people I work in IT they always ask what area. When I say I’m working with databases their eyes glaze over. While the term, “database” is a common one in IT circles the precise meaning probably isn’t fully understood in “non-IT” conversation.
In its broadest sense, a database is an organised collection of data. The data is organised into groups of rows (records) called tables. Each row stores the data elements that are related to an instance of a single thing. A “thing” might be a customer, an order or a stocked item. Further, how these things relate to each other is also taken into consideration. For instance, an order is created for a customer. An order is made up of different quantities of stocked items.
Databases can literally store data about anything. They can range in size from a handful of rows (records) to many millions of rows. I, personally, have worked on a database of 80 million rows. This was owned by a telephone company in Germany. Its primary function was to accurately bill each customer. This meant that all of those 80 million rows had to be processed fast enough to allow every bill to be sent out within a month. There are 2,419,200 seconds in 28 days. So their database had to process over 33 rows/second, day and night. So databases don’t just enhance your business but do it fast! This, however, isn’t the end of the story. Not only did we get the bill run operating inside a month. The entire 80 million rows were processed in approximately 8 hours – 28,800 seconds – one record every 0.00036 seconds.
The speed is impressive. However, the best thing about databases is they never forget. This allows us to make every decision we make now by going back and reviewing literally every decision and action we took in the past. Hence, earlier mistakes shouldn’t be repeated. Also, new decisions can be made better.