Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Databases and Web Hosting

by Matt R

Even though "Database" is a term that web site owners and beginners encounter every other day, very few grasp the real meaning of it and how it transforms from concept to materiality.

A database can be defined as a structured format that helps in organizing and maintaining large amount of data for easy retrieval. This easily retrieved information thus forms the basis of decision-making.

Please keep in mind that no matter how necessary it may seem, a database is not always required. A database solution has to be justified based on the magnitude of information that your business activities may be generating and the need to organize that information. If all what you have is a few names and numbers in your contact list, database is work overdone. At the same time if your data is not interrelated, keeping a database would not be very productive.

When designing a database it is very important to keep the maintenance consideration in mind and that right from the beginning. Otherwise letting the database go jumbled is not a hard task and in fact, this exactly is the path of self destruction followed by many that failed to properly implement their database systems.

For today's web site designers and owners, the task of setting up a database system is quite straightforward, thanks to the three popular database platforms that are MySQL, MS Access and MS SQL Server. These database products are user friendly and even those with little technical expertise can start building their databases right away. However, this ease of setting up should not let you stop thinking about the basics of right database structure.

Let's take the example of an online store that sells books and stationery. You are the owner and for each customer you have a record of their names, postal addresses, email addresses, items purchased, value of transaction and the order date. The first question that arises here is whether you need a database or not and the answer very well depends on the total number of sales. If you say there aren't much but a few sales each month, forget about the database, but if your internet marketing is bearing fruits and you are seeing exponential growth in sales, by all means go for a database system that will not only speed up information retrieval for you but also make it possible to tackle issues like adding more attributes and dimensions (e.g. books category) in each record etc.

Given the user friendliness of today's database tools, all you need at your end is the logical thinking process. And if you are willing to dedicate some time towards this effort, an effective database is not very far from reality. Basically we are talking about working out the peculiar details of how database tables should be organized, what items these tables should contain etc. To be more precise, whether records like name, postal address and product details be part of the same table or should we break our database into separate tables for personal info and different one for product and pricing details.

You won't get it right the first time and it's very important to test your database before fully implementing it. Start populating trial data and very soon you'll discover the instability issues that arise. Clearing these issues from the beginning would help your database achieve a speedy retrieval as well as productive storage functionality.

Needless to say that once a database gets into the picture, things change drastically at the web hosting side. Your web server administrator has new issues to handle, including backing up your database on a more frequent basis. This backup task is pretty important as restoring a database is much more complex than restoring a static html page. Ask your web host if they really have the technical expertise and if they have done it before for their customers. You'll be surprised to know that many have never tested their database backup tools and are simply complacent with the never-needed scenario.

In the end, let's re-emphasize that even though complexities arise the moment you start thinking about developing a database for organizing your information, the benefits majority of times outweigh the associated cost and effort. Be it a small business or large, the management ultimately realizes the need for having a database and you would be lucky if that's the case for your company now.

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