Friday, May 22, 2009

What kind of a database do I need?

So, we covered the need for one. Chances are you need one. But which one? First we have to think a bit.

There are some questions to consider the answers to:
  • What kind of data am I storing? Is it just text and numbers, or do I have to store files or picture? Do I have to store documents?
  • How much data am I storing? Do I have a few dozen customers and a couple of suppliers, or do I have hundreds of both? Do I have historical information I need to put in, and how much of it do I have?
  • How many people need to get at it? Is this just for me, or do other people need to get at it also?
  • What other requirements do I have? Speed, costs, etc. Does the system have to lightning quick or can you wait a second or two? Do you have a budget to spend on this, both for software and somebody to handle it?
There are several broad categories of alternatives.
  • If the amount of data is small, simple and textual you could get by with a text file. An XML file can easily hold a fair amount of structured data and does not require very powerful software.
  • If the amount of data is larger and maybe a bit harder to manage you might need a spreadsheet like Open Office Calc, Google Doc or Microsoft Excel.
  • If your data needs are larger you start to get into actual "database" software, of which there are many different options from free to very expensive. The choices stretch out a great distance, but include smaller ones like Microsoft Access or FileMaker or ones that will scale out as needed like MySQL, PostreSQL or Microsoft SQL Server (various editions).
In each case the number of people need to access the data will drive what you wind up with. Think about your needs before buying what people are selling and come back to determine what kind you need. Answering these questions will help you be techgnostic in your choice.

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