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BUSINESS SOFTWARE

How to Select the Best Database Software

The right database software will turn columns and rows of data into valuable information that can drive your business.

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The multiple options for database management systems—web-enabled, desktop, server, etc.—can be overwhelming.

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Databases are about more than columns and rows. Whatever type of business you're running, you'll likely need a  way to house data you've collected and, whether it's a simple mailing list or an extensive product inventory, you'll want to maximize that data. Here's a few tips to help you choose the best database software for your business.

How to Select the Best Database Software: Know Your Database Software Types

The multiple options for database management systems—web-enabled, desktop, server, etc.—can be overwhelming admits Bill Veiga, vice president of business development for MarkLogic, a leading provider of information access and delivery solutions in San Carlos, California. He notes that the offerings in the information management space have grown beyond traditional databases to include specialized options focusing on items such as in-memory, column stores, and unstructured information—all of which can bring different types of value to an organization.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to each platform, experts stress the importance of selecting a system that best meets your needs. At the bare minimum, you'll want one that offers customization tools, is updated frequently, and comes with reliable, proven support. Bob Alves of Alexandria, Virginia-based Advanced Solutions International, a global provider of non-profit software, advises entrepreneurs to keep in mind that choosing database software is a business decision that will benefit you in the long run. While the process may be time consuming, it will take even more money and resources to repeat the process if you are are not satisfied with their first choices. An all-too familiar a problem for developer Jeff Cogswell, owner of Cogsmedia.com and a certified Alpha Five developer based in Cincinnati, who's had to counsel clients on numerous occasions. "All too often they'll end up with a disaster on their hands, wasting months and months trying to force a square peg in a round hole."

Here's the various database types:

  • Desktop:  A simple, inexpensive solution generally for single users designed to run on desktop or PCs. Cost: nominal.
  • Server:  Generally for a multiuser database, this platform allows you to organize large amounts of data update the data simultaneously. Most popular products: Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server. Cost: Steep.
  • Web-enabled: Today, most database applications have Web integration coupled with a desktop platform. Most popular products: Microsoft Access Cost: Inexpensive.

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How to Select the Best Database Software: Consider How You Will Use the Data

Veiga recommends small business owners to ask "What is the value I want to get from my information, and what is the right tool for that job?"

Your decision will depend on your budget, size of your organization, and what the database will be used for. To get it right the first time, Alves recommends:

  • Forming a strategic plan. Outline a strategy, complete with financials, that illustrates the scope of the software your enterprise really needs to support its operational objectives. 
  • Decide what information you want to organize and how you will use and access it. Sit down and evaluate all of your needs before deciding if a custom solution is needed rather than off-the-shelf, packaged software. Consider your budget, who will be using and maintaining the database, and what tasks they will perform with it. Before starting the selection process, ask the various departments or key players for their feedback and their list of must-haves. Clearly define staff needs to reach those goals.

If you have complex requirements, you may opt for a server platform. If budget and ease of use is an issue, a desktop database may be more suitable for your needs. If you're looking for more flexibility and openness, then a web-enabled database, may suit your needs better. A web-based solution is beneficial to businesses that are looking to have functionalities such as CRM (customer relationship management) and CMS (content management system) powered by the same database.

TIP: Make sure the software supports both PC and Mac platforms. If you opt for the hosted option, the issue doesn't arise since users have the ability to access the information by simply logging on to a website through their browser. If you opt for a server-based solution, then the PC versus Mac platform issue can get tricky.

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How to Select the Best Database Software: How Will You Protect Your Data 

Every vendor offers different security options, but Alves says businesses should be using data encryption, which scrambles data as it is stored in the databases so that anyone without the decryption key will only see a scrambled version of the data.

TIP: Today, companies are required to follow the guidelines set by the PCI Security Standards Council. Any business that stores, processes or transmits credit card data is responsible for complying with the standard. In order to be considered compliant, you must meet every individual requirement, and your e-commerce systems that handle credit card data must pass automated security scans.

Alves says many of his clients are in need of an open and flexible system that will help them achieve customization. 'My clients are looking for a solution that will tailor the user experience, support unique workflow requirements, and integrate to external applications.'

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How to Select the Best Database Software: Know the Lingo

While you're not expected to become a programmer overnight, some general knowledge can certainly be beneficial. Here's some terms you'll want to commit to memory.

Database: A database is an organized collection of information. This information can be stored as a set of text files or spreadsheets as well as in many other forms. Even a simple hand-written address book that contains basic information such as name, address, and phone number could be considered a database.

Database management system, or DBMS: A tool or software application used to create and manipulate databases. It utilizes a standard method of cataloging, capturing, and running queries on data—managing incoming data, organizing it, and providing methods for the data to be modified or extracted by users or other programs.

NoSQL, or non relational database: Fits data that doesn't fit into a schema very well. For example, if you want to generate value from documents, tweets, e-mails, Web content, or metadata, a database for unstructured information would be the best choice, says MarkLogic's Veiga.

Primary Key: This column uniquely identifies each record in the table such as a Social Security Number or customer number and may consist of a single attribute or multiple attributes in combination.

Schema: The schema is the databases structure described in a formal language supported by the database management system (DBMS). In a relational database, the schema defines the tables, the fields, relationships, indexes, functions, sequences, and other elements.

SQL, or Structured Query Language: A programming language used to create and manipulate databases, considered the foundation of all relational databases.

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Last updated: Oct 31, 2010




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