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The Database Site is your web resource for database news, information, tips and guidance. Keep up-to-date on your favorite DBMS and more>.     

Database Fundamentals

What is a database? I bet you think you know the answer to that question. But many of you are wrong. DB2 is not a database; neither are MySQL, Oracle or SQL Server. Each of these is a DBMS, or Database Management System. more>

Today’s modern Database Management Systems are complex and constantly changing. And the IT professionals who must use and manage them must be always adapting and learning.

Database management systems are taking on more functionality and being used in more situations than ever before. No longer do databases store only traditional simple structured data types like characters, numbers, and dates but also store more complex unstructured data types like audio, video, images, and compound documents. And databases are growing in size as a result. But this is not the only factor causing databases to grow in size. The business intelligence needs of today’s organizations have caused databases and data warehouses to grow large and out of control.

Indeed, the demand for analytical processing of large amounts of data has given rise to a whole new meme - Big Data. And along with that are new methods of storing, accessing, and processing large volumes of constantly changing data.

Furthermore, today’s databases do not just store data – they also store processes that act upon that data. Stored procedures, triggers, and user-defined functions managed by the DBMS place additional requirements on database administrators. And databases are being placed on more diverse platforms than ever before. This includes mainframes, midranges, workstations, PCs, and even PDAs. Additionally, databases are increasingly being connected to the Internet to enable e-business applications. This further complicates the way in which databases are managed. All of these new technologies and trends impact the job of the DBA.

Another factor impacting modern database systems is heterogeneity. Most organizations have multiple DBMS products. Studies have shown that most middle to large size organizations have from three to ten different DBMS products. This heterogeneity makes database administration more difficult. Although most of today’s development uses relational technology, there are many existing legacy applications using hierarchical (IMS) and network (IDMS) DBMSs. A thorough understanding of Oracle, for example, will not help a DBA who must also administer IMS databases. When the database model differs the DBA must be prepared to perform almost completely different jobs. And, of course, that is not even to mention XML and NoSQL database systems!

Of course, you need to keep in mind that each of the relational products operates differently, too. You can not take a DB2 DBA and just sit him in front of an Oracle database and expect him to efficiently administer it. There are many differences in the implementation, the DDL, the SQL, and the underlying mechanics of the DBMSs. For example, locking is implemented very differently in DB2 than in Oracle. Oracle does not take READ locks, whereas DB2 does. And this is just one small example. Consider how difficult it becomes to understand not just DB2 and Oracle, but perhaps MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and Informix as well.

There are tools available that mask some of these differences, but not every shop owns these tools. So understanding every little nuance of every DBMS in their shop is a difficult, if not impossible task.

A final impediment to efficiently using a modern DBMS is the speed of change. Most organizations cannot implement new DBMS versions as fast as the vendors deliver them. In many cases we are seeing new DBMS  releases every 18 to 24 months; this creates what can seem like a never-ending cycle of migrating to new technology.

So many users are still running old versions of their DBMS because it requires a lot of migration and testing effort to move from one version to the next. This is so even when the vendors make an effort to simplify the process. Programs need to be run to ensure that performance is similar for the new release, sometimes data needs to be migrated to a new format, and older features are increasingly being dropped from new releases, which can require re-programming functional programs and databases.


Database management is getting more complex which, in turn, is driving up the level of skills required to successfully implement database administration.

Data is more important than ever, and production databases store the most important data. Managing, documenting and protecting data is increasingly complicated.

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