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3 Things to Know About Databases

At first glance, a database looks almost like a spreadsheet. It has arranged columns and rows and holds data just as a spreadsheet does. However, things get a lot different from this point forward. Databases are far more powerful than spreadsheets, allowing you to do a lot more with them. This is why businesses and organizations large and small use databases to efficiently run their operations.

Below are three important things to know about databases.

1. Databases are relational and can cross-reference records in different tables.

Most databases are relational, which means you can create relationships between tables to compare and contrast data. For example, if you linked a Customers table with an Orders table, you could bring up the entire order history for a specific customer. You could also refine this data based on a certain time period or purchase total.

Additionally, databases have broad search functionality that allows businesses to pull up all information in a matter of seconds. This helps people make smart business decisions. Databases are also capable of updating records in bulk so that users don’t have to go through and update everything manually. In the end, databases are incredible tools that offer far more functionality than traditional spreadsheets.

2. Databases have a structure that is made up of columns and rows.

Databases contain tables and rows, and all data is separated by categories to avoid duplication. For instance, a retail business might have a database that contains a Customers table, an Orders table and a Products table.

Within each table, the rows are called records and the cells are called fields. Each field holds a specific type of data, such as a number or date that is formatted consistently. This allows users to pull up accurate, consistent information.

Furthermore, the tables are linked through a key, which is an ID that identifies each row. There is a primary key for each table, and any table that needs to link to that table will have a foreign key. You can read more about choosing a good primary key in an earlier post.

3. Microsoft Access is one of the most popular database programs.

Microsoft Access remains one of the most popular and reliable database programs on the market. It’s affordable, easy to implement and can be scaled to accommodate growing businesses. If your business needs something more powerful than Access, you may want to upgrade to a server database that uses SQL, such as MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle.

No matter what your database needs are, Arkware can help. We get businesses set up with databases like Microsoft Access as well as upgrade them to server databases. Using the right database ensures efficient, productive operations and the ability to make smart business decisions. Contact us today for your free consultation.


How Databases Support Ecommerce Businesses

Some ecommerce businesses use databases, which is why you may see terms like “database backed” or “cloud database.” All this means is that the ecommerce system uses a database. If you have an online business, you may be asking if having a database is good or bad and what it can do for you.  

In this post, we’re going to explore the different types of data that ecommerce databases organize and the benefits of adding one to your application.

Databases and Types of Data

In simple terms, a database is a system that organizes data. For ecommerce sites, data falls into one of two categories:

  • Site content. Site content is what you see when you’re browsing an ecommerce site. This data generates HTML pages such as content pages (about us, FAQs, shipping), product pages (price, dimension, weight) and category pages (grouping similar products together).  
  • Transactional data. Transactional data is a result of visitors taking action on your pages. When an ecommerce application is first created, it has no transactional data. But, as customers make purchases, transactional data is created. Examples include customer orders and inventory updates.

Benefits of Ecommerce Databases

There’s a reason why so many ecommerce businesses use databases – they work! Need to check on a customer’s order? It’s in the database. Want to know the shipping dimensions of a specific product? It’s in the database.

When you use a database to handle your data, your web application can ignore the details and focus on the presentation of the data. As a result, the web application will be simpler and easier to understand. Your customers will appreciate a fast and smooth shopping process, too!

Here are a few more things an ecommerce database can do.

  • Track customer orders. It’s difficult to track and manage transactions because there is so much information included in each. Rather than being consumed by all of these details, a database can track customer orders for you.
  • Organize products. If you have a large inventory, a database will come in handy. Ecommerce databases can organize products while taking into account their variants, styles and combinations.
  • Structure store data. A database puts structure around your data. When everything is organized in the same way, it makes creating code easier. Plus, your application doesn’t have to manage the data, only the structure.

If you have an ecommerce business and are considering using a database to support your data, contact Arkware today at 877-519-4537.


What is an ODBC Compliant Database?

Open DataBase Connectivity, or ODBC, is a standard application programming interface (API) that was originally developed in the 1990s by Microsoft and Simba Technologies. The purpose of ODBC is to make it possible to access information from any application, regardless of the database system being used. Microsoft Access is an example of an ODBC compliant database.

How important is ODBC and what does it enable you to do? Let’s learn more about ODBC and why the most popular database management systems are compliant.

What Does ODBC Compliance Mean, Exactly?

When a database is ODBC compliant, it means that it can exchange information with other databases. This is made possible with ODBC drivers that let different database programs communicate with each other and understand the data being exchanged. ODBC has been used for over 25 years and has become the industry standard in the database field.

There are four components to ODBC that work together to allow functions:

  • Application. Any ODBC compliant application can be used, such as Microsoft Excel or Crystal Reports. The application performs processing by receiving results from the ODBC driver manager and passing SQL statements.
  • Driver manager. Drivers are loaded for each application. Windows comes with a driver manager of its own, whereas other programs have the choice to use an open source ODBC driver manager like iODBC.
  • Driver. The driver handles ODBC function calls and submits each SQL request to a data source. Results are returned to the application.
  • Data source. The data source refers to the data being accessed and its associated database management systems. It could be any type of data, ranging from a simple file to a live data feed.

What Databases are ODBC Compliant?

Microsoft Access is compliant with ODBC, but there are many other databases that are as well. These include:

  • MySQL
  • Oracle
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Microsoft Visual FoxPro
  • IBM DB2

ODBC is very common, so it’s likely that whatever database program you are using is ODBC compliant. If you’re unsure, check your database’s manual, contact your developer or give Arkware a call at 877-519-4537. We’re always happy to help!


Understanding the ACID Model for Database Management

The ACID model is one of the oldest database theory concepts. It includes four goals that every database management system must try to achieve: atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability. If the database does not meet these four goals, it is not considered reliable. Databases that do meet these four goals are considered to be reliable and ACID compliant.

Let’s learn more about each component in the ACID model and the strategies used to support it.

Defining the ACID Model

Here are more specifics on the characteristics of the ACID model.

  • Atomicity. Transactions are made up of multiple statements. Atomicity ensures that each transaction is treated as a single unit that either succeeds or fails. So, if any of the statements within a transaction fail, the whole transaction fails and the database is left unchanged.
  • Consistency. Consistency ensures that only valid data is included in the database. If a transaction violates the database’s consistency rules, it will be stopped and the database will be unchanged. This prevents illegal transactions from taking place.
  • Isolation. Isolation means that multiple transactions happening at the same time will not impact each other. Isolation supports concurrency control and prevents transactions from interfering with each other.
  • Durability. Once a transaction is complete, it will remain that way, even if there is a system failure. Durability is ensured through database backups, transaction logs and other security measures.

Putting the ACID Model into Practice

The ACID model can be executed using several different strategies. For atomicity and durability, database administrators may use write-ahead logging (WAL) that places all transaction data in a special log. If the database were to fail, the administrator could check the log and compare its content to what’s in the database.

Another strategy is shadow-paging, which is where a shadow page is created with content that can be modified. Updates are added to the shadow page instead of the actual database, and the database is only updated when the edit has been completed.

The two-phase commit protocol is another strategy, ideal for distributed database systems. When data is modified, it’s split into two requests: a commit-request phase and a commit phase. In the commit-request phase, all databases affected by the transaction must confirm that they have received the request and are able to perform it. When confirmation has been received, the commit phase completes the data.

The ACID model can be difficult to understand at first, but Arkware is here to do the heavy lifting for you! Give us a call and we’ll find the best database solution for your needs.


Database Tips for Beginners

Any data organized in a specific format can be considered a database. There are endless applications for databases depending on what they are being used for and what type of information is being retrieved. If you’re new to the database world, we have a list of things to know before jumping in. The more time you take to understand how databases work, the more productive you can be with them.

SQL is at the Core of Relational Databases

Structured Query Language (SQL) is at the core of all relational databases, including Oracle, SQL Server and Microsoft Access. If you want to be proficient in your database, you’ll have to learn SQL. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn the language, such as with online classes, tutorials, books and videos. Learning SQL will provide you with a firm foundation for using relational databases.

Choose Your Primary Keys Wisely

Primary keys deserve attention. It’s important that your primary keys are unique. Anything that might share the same value for an attribute is not a good choice for a primary key. You’ll also need to think twice about using sensitive values in your databases (i.e., Social Security numbers and email addresses). Use your database management system to generate a unique identifier.

Know that Null is not Zero

Many people think that null is zero, but it’s not. Instead, it means “unknown.” Nulls cannot be compared to any values, so they are not included in reports. So, if you have 300 customers in your database and 30 have nulls in the Email Address column, the report will generate a result of 270.

Convert Spreadsheets to Databases

If you have data stored in Microsoft Excel, as many people do when they upgrade to Microsoft Access, save yourself time and convert your spreadsheets into databases. This can be done fairly easily by creating a database, importing the spreadsheet and choosing a primary key. You can learn more about converting your Excel spreadsheets to databases here.

Database Platforms are Different

There are many different databases out there, and no two are the same. Some large corporations and warehouses need enterprise-size databases with all the bells and whistles. However, most businesses can benefit from a simpler, more cost-effective program like Microsoft Access. It’s effective at keeping track of expenses, inventory, sales, etc. and supports multiple users. Plus, it has a familiar look and feel so there’s not much of a learning curve.

Are you considering upgrading from spreadsheets to a database? Contact Arkware for a free consultation and learn which database is right for your business.


Why Primary Keys are Important and How to Choose One

Databases use keys to store, sort and compare relationships between records. There are three different types of keys: primary keys, candidate keys and foreign keys. When setting up a database table, the software will ask you to set up a primary key that will be responsible for identifying each record in the table. You might not think much about choosing a primary key, but this is actually a very big and important decision.

Why are Primary Keys a Big Deal?

Designing a new database comes with many choices, and selecting a primary key is one of them. In fact, it’s one of the most important. The purpose of a primary key is to implement a relationship between two tables. Without a primary key, relational databases wouldn’t exist.

Even though a primary key might sound a bit unusual, we use them in everyday life without realizing it. Student IDs are an example of a primary key. Students are uniquely identified by these numbers, but the numbers don’t mean anything outside the school.

Below are the advantages to using primary keys.

  • Serves as a common link field between tables
  • Speeds up queries, searches and sort requests
  • Only valid records will be in your table
  • No duplicates will be added
  • MS Access shows data in order of the primary key

How to Choose a Primary Key

Primary keys should be 100% unique. You can generally turn to your database for the answers you’re looking for. In many cases, people will use the database management system to generate a unique identifier. This way, you’ll have a reliable system for referencing individuals or things in your database, but they won’t have meaning outside the system.

Good primary keys are usually short and include all numbers. They avoid using special characters or a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. Some things that do NOT make good primary keys are zip codes, email addresses and Social Security numbers. Primary keys should not contain null values and must contain a unique value for each row of data.

Good database design starts by having a good primary key. You can learn more about finding the best primary key for your database in this article, or call Arkware. Our pros will be happy to walk through the steps with you.