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Best Database Management software of 2020

Database Management Software Trends

Database management software, also commonly referred to as a DBMS (database management system) is a software structure that allows your company to organize and store all of your data in a readily accessible and searchable format. Your databases might include customer data, sales information, contact information for sales leads, internal reports, and more.

All of these types of data and more can be stored using a database management system, which can in turn be connected to analytics tools and other software throughout your business.

Why use database management software?

If you are constantly looking through Byzantine folder structures to find important files (was the budget from last quarter in “finance” or “spending”?), or if your company is finding itself overwhelmed with massive amounts of data that are too big to fit onto the hard drive of any one computer, you need database management software.

A database management system gives you the tools you need to store and organize your data according to a unified and consistent storage scheme.

Choosing the right database management software will make it easy to find all of your data, and how each type of data relates to the others.

Unlike a traditional file folder on a computer, many database management software systems use what are called relational databases—a data structure in which specific data points in a given table of data have “keys” that point to other data points in other tables.

For example, in a table of all of the individual parts in a specific product, each part may have a key that points to another table which stores the properties of that part (what it is made from, which factory manufactures it, what its cost is, and so on). In this way, you can richly and succinctly express how your data are related to one another, hence the name “relational database.”

Not all database management software systems use relational databases, but they are by far the most common because of their versatility and convenience.

Your database management software gives you the tools you need to manage your database by creating and organizing data. A DBMS isn’t the database itself, it’s the system you use to create and manage those databases.

Of course, a database isn’t much use without database management software that runs it, but still, it’s important not to confuse the two. Your database management software dictates the interface you’ll be using to manage existing databases and create new ones, so you’ll want to be very comfortable with it to put it to best use.

Database management software can help you manage and process big data. If your company regularly deals in datasets that are truly massive, you will struggle mightily if you aren’t using a dedicated software system that is designed to deal with big data.

Both relational and non-relational database management software can handle big data, and when paired with big data analytics software ecosystems like Apache Spark or Hadoop, can enable you to derive insights and analytics from datasets that would otherwise be unworkably large.

Database management software can work with databases in many different formats. You might find that different divisions in your company already have their own database management software, but each division has selected a different vendor or database format.

Fortunately, this is not a major obstacle for database management software, thanks to a protocol called Open Database Connectivity or ODBC. This protocol allows different database systems to communicate with one another.

For example, if one of your divisions operates a MySQL database, but your company wants to use Oracle Database to manage all of its data, this is not a problem thanks to the open database connectivity protocol.

Who uses database management software?

Pretty much anyone at your company that generates or accesses substantial amounts of data will interface somehow with your database management system. These interactions will range from simple in some jobs to complex in others.

Data engineer. Your company’s data engineers are tasked with getting data from its source into your database. Those sources might be web data, social media interactions, sales receipts, or internal productivity data, to name just a few possibilities.

These data will come in wildly different formats, and often need cleaning and processing before they are ready to be deposited in your company’s database management system.

Data engineers will need to be intimately familiar with all of your company’s databases, because they’ll be feeding in new data as it arrives. They’ll spend less time extracting and processing data once it is stored, though.

Data analyst. In contrast to the job of a data engineer, a data analyst will spend very little time putting data into a database, and will spend a lot of time pulling data out.

Data analysts will usually be connecting their statistical analysis software or data visualization software to your databases, possibly with or without direct use of the database management system. While they will spend less time on the administration side of database management, your data analysts will still need to be familiar with the structure and format of all of your relevant databases.

Data scientist. Data scientists will be extracting and analyzing data from your databases, and likely also generating new data as a result of their analytics projects. For instance, a new clustering algorithm might assign your customers to different markets; such a project would require making either a new database or adding an additional attribute to the database containing your customer data.

Data scientists will be using your database management software to create or modify databases as needed, and they’ll want direct access to be able to write automated scripts to read, write, and modify data.

Systems administrator. Your systems administrator will be the one tasked with getting your database management system set up in the first place.

They’ll be the ones installing your database management software on your company’s servers, and creating or migrating databases if you’ve been using a different system to store your data previously.

Though your systems administrator likely will not be the go-to person for small day-to-day glitches or technical issues, they will be responsible for fixing major problems and carrying out major overhauls to your database system.

IT specialist. Your IT specialists will help with the initial setup and installation of your database management software, and they’ll be the first people to address problems that come up in day-to-day usage of your database management system.

Although they won’t be the ones storing or analyzing data, they’ll still need a deep understanding of all aspects of the database management software, because if something goes wrong with any of your databases, they’ll be the ones expected to know how to fix it.

Features

Most database management software supports interoperability with other databases through the open database connectivity protocol. For many types of business software, migrating from one software ecosystem to another is a complete nightmare.

Files aren’t interoperable, meaning you have to start virtually from scratch. Fortunately, that is not the case for database management software. Because large corporations often have many different divisions or departments, each of which generates and stores their own data in a format that is convenient for them, database software companies have developed a method called open database connectivity, or ODBC, through which any database management software can access data stored in a different type of database.

This dramatically eases the process of connecting different databases together, or migrating data from one database to another.

While operating system compatibility is less of a concern with database management software, you should still check to make sure all of your company’s operating systems will be supported. The vast majority of database management software tools support a wide variety of operating systems, in part because they tend to be run both on servers and on personal computers.

However, there are some notable exceptions—Microsoft Access, for example, is (as you might guess from the name) not supported on Linux or Mac operating systems. You may also run into problems with operating system compatibility if some of your company’s computers or servers run less-common operating systems like FreeBSD.

Be sure to do a full inventory of the different operating systems that you’ll need to be able to run your database management software, and check the operating system compatibility when choosing a database management software.

Cloud-based database management software can save you the trouble of installing the software on your own servers. With the emergence of cloud computing, installing and using database management software no longer has to entail hosting and maintaining the system on your own servers.

Using services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Oracle Cloud, you can run database management software, and host your databases, on remote servers hosted by these companies. This option is particularly attractive for small and mid-sized business, as it frees up resources from your systems administrator and IT team.

When you host your own database management software, your entire IT team will need to put a lot of time and resources into getting everything set up and keeping it running smoothly. While cloud-based database management software isn’t the right solution for everyone, it’s an option you should definitely consider.

Good database management software will have backup and recovery options that are easy to use. One of the primary advantages of using a database management system versus a traditional file structure for storing your data is the ease with which you can back up and recover your data.

Ideally, your database management software should have tools for automated backups on a regular basis, and the ability to restore or recall data from previous archived versions of your database. This feature can be a lifesaver in the event of a server crash or an accidental deletion of an important data table.

If you have many different employees accessing and modifying your databases, look for database management software that offers flexible user permissions. In a small or mid-sized company with only a few people working with and accessing your company’s data, all users will likely need full or nearly-full privileges for your databases.

However, at a large company, you’ll want to be able to set user permissions more carefully. For example, you can configure your database management system so that your sales analysts can only access and modify sales data, and not other potentially confidential data from other divisions of your company.

Generally, higher-end database management software will offer more flexibility in how you can configure user permissions, though virtually any DBMS will contain some user security permission capabilities.

FAQ

Q: What is a relational database?

A: A relational database is the most common type of database in use. The philosophy behind relational databases holds that each row of a table of data should have “keys,” or identifiers, that refer to other rows in other tables that contain additional information about that particular datapoint.

For example, if you have a table of your employees, each row might represent one person. Attributes about that person (like when they were hired or what their performance evaluation history has been) might be stored in another table.

The person’s name, or the person’s employee ID number, can be used as a key that connects these tables together. Relational databases are more flexible, because keys do not mandate a one-to-one correspondence. For example, two different employees with the same healthcare benefits package might have the same key to refer to their healthcare benefit details, which reduces redundancy.

Q: What kind of database management software should a small business use?

A: Small businesses should look closely at cloud-based database management software, using systems like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Oracle Cloud. While not every small business is a good fit for cloud-based database management, there are numerous advantages.

First among these is the fact that you don’t need to physically own your own servers to host your database. On top of that, you don’t have to worry about installing software onto the servers, because cloud-based hosting is already set up for you.

Finally, cloud-based database management software offers more flexibility when it comes to scaling up the size of your databases as your business grows.

Q: Are there free database management software tools?

A: Yes, in fact many of the most popular database management tools, like MySQL and PostgreSQL, are both free and open-source. This means that as long as you have a computer or server available, you can download them, install them, and start creating and managing databases for no cost.

Like with other open source software, the downside with freely available database management software is that you don’t have much in the way of technical support available.

Fortunately, with MySQL and PostgreSQL, there are many active online communities to help you solve problems. If you know you’ll need a lot of enterprise-level support, you may want to go with proprietary database management software instead.

Q: What is SQL in database management?

A: SQL stands for “structured query language,” and while technically SQL is an internationally-defined standard, in practice there are several variants of SQL that are not entirely interchangeable. Regardless, SQL and SQL-like languages form the backbone of the vast majority of databases currently in use.

In SQL, data are stored in tables, and these tables can have “keys” that refer to each other. Thus, all SQL-based databases are “relational,” in that you can specify how different instances of data relate to data in other tables.

This simple framework allows for arbitrarily complex nested and structured data, which is why it is so popular for storing data at companies of all sizes. Do keep in mind that SQL commands in one system, like PostgreSQL, may not always work in another SQL-based system, like MySQL.

Q: What is a multimodal database management system?

A: Multi-modal database management systems allow you to create and manage databases that store data in different formats. That doesn’t just mean different types of data—it means different layout strategies for your database.

For example, a multi-modal database management system like Oracle Cloud allows you to manage data stored in a MySQL server, and also data in a non-relational, or “NoSQL” database at the same time.

While smaller companies generally don’t need multimodal capabilities, larger corporations almost inevitably end up needing multimodal database management software at some point.

Q: Are all database management system tools run in the cloud?

A: No, strictly speaking only cloud-based database management software is truly in the cloud, though there are significant similarities even with on-premise database management software. The key difference is whether or not your database management software is being installed on servers that your company owns or rents (either physically at your company or somewhere else).

In true cloud-based database management software, like Microsoft Azure for instance, the servers are owned by Microsoft and the software is installed and updated by Microsoft’s engineers.

Larger companies have more incentives for using on-premise database management software, since they tend to have the IT infrastructructure in place already to host, install, and maintain a database management system on their own servers—though there are definitely exceptions to this.

Q: What is Open Database Connectivity?

A: Open Database Connectivity, or ODBC for short, is an interface (technically, an application programming interface or API) that enables different database management systems to exchange data. For example, if you want to connect Microsoft Access to an Oracle Database system, you can do so easily using the open database connectivity protocol.

The convenience and open-source nature of ODBC means that you don’t need to worry very much about whether your current database management software will be compatible with a different system in the future. Likewise, you can also access data across many different types of databases that exist in your company, all thanks to ODBC.

Q: What are the advantages of database management systems over file systems?

A: Storing data in file systems (the way you probably store your files on your personal computer) has a host of problems. Two of the primary problems are redundancy and inconsistency.

Suppose you had one spreadsheet with data on all of your employees, and another spreadsheet with data on all of your company’s retirement plan options. Your employee spreadsheet isn’t “linked” to your retirement plan spreadsheet, which causes redundancy and consistency problems.

Each employee will have a retirement plan, which will be listed in the employee spreadsheet, and each retirement plan might have a list of employees currently on it, in the retirement plan spreadsheet. The redundancy here is easy to spot, and the problem with consistency appears when an employee changes retirement plans. If you don’t remember to change both spreadsheets in exactly the same way, you’ll have inconsistent data.

Two other problems are backup and recovery issues, and problems when multiple users want to access the same data at the same time. Database management systems solve all of these problems and more under one coherent framework.

Q: What is DBaaS?

A: DBaaS stands for “database as a service,” and is analogous to the broader term “SaaS,” or software as a service. DBaaS is virtually synonymous with cloud-based database management software.

As with other cloud-based software, the idea is that you pay a monthly or annual fee to host and run all of your database systems in the cloud.

This means you don’t need to own your own servers, and it means your IT staff doesn’t have to spend the time setting up all of the necessary software on those servers to run your database management software. Some popular DBaaS platforms include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, MongoDB Atlas, and Oracle Cloud.

Recap

To get your company’s data organized, structured, and easily queried, you need good database management software.

Choosing the right type of database for your data, and choosing the right database management system to interface with it, can dramatically improve your ability to store and use your data to drive better, more informed decision-making at your company.