As a development agency, Wiredelta® works with all kinds of different projects, for both web and mobile. But, even though all projects are unique, they have one thing in common. All projects have one or more databases where they store information.
In one of our older posts, we explained that a database is basically neatly organized chunks of data. We use databases all the time to either store information or retrieve it when we make an action on any platform.
Databases for beginners
Metaphorically speaking, a database is like a supermarket. It has shelves or tables for different types of data it stores, just like a store has shelves with different types of food. So, like in a store, every time a user visits your platform, they require information. Information is pulled from the database and then given to the user, for them to complete their action.
Now, think of adding data to your database as stocking your supermarket. You start with the basics, the items you know everyone needs. That is the information you already know your users will look for. But, the more users you have the more insight you have into them and their actions, so your database keeps growing.
Then listen to your users
Keeping with the metaphor, if one hundred customers ask for a specific brand of beer, you probably should start stocking it. The same goes for the digital world. Your users provide you with data that goes in the database. After analysing this data, you improve your platform to better suit the needs of your clientele.
However, you are probably asking yourself “why should I know any of this? I have Google Analytics!” Well, the reason why is that if you want to build a scalable web or mobile platform, you need to choose the right path from the beginning. Otherwise, you will end up in a knot. So, without further ado, let’s start with the basic steps you need to know before choosing your database.
Types of databases
The first step in choosing a database is understanding the different types available. There are many ways to store data, of course. But most commonly, databases come in two categories, relational and non-relational.
This type of database consists of pre-defined tables storing data in specific categories, such as name, gender, age, nationality, etc. They are referred to as SQL databases, from the interface Structural Query Language they use. As the name “relational database” suggests, SQL databases connect the different tables or sets of data within it. This is called a relation.
The biggest advantage of having this type of databases is the strict but organized way they work. The relation between two tables means that you can have a User table and a Product table that communicate with each other.
Why choose a SQL database
SQL databases are perfect for commercial websites and apps, like webshops. In fact. the three most popular content management systems, WordPress, Drupal and Magento. They all use MySQL. However, SQL are used when you know what type of data you want or need to collect.
Non-relational databases are used for large collections of data. In comparison, this type of databases are not structured by category of data, which means that you have the liberty to store any kind of information in one table. The only rule is that whatever data you store in that table is somehow related.
One of the most notable examples where a non-relational database is used, is the 100.000 Genomes Project. For this amazing project, Genome England used a MongoDB solution. As a result, they managed to significantly cut down their research time from hours to milliseconds, by using the complex queries the database allows.
Simply put, if your company deals with big data and data scraping, you need a non-relational database.
Where to store you data
Once you have decided on a database or a combination of solutions, it’s time to find out where you store your data. Once again, you have several strategies to choose from, specifically centralized, distributed or decentralized databases.
These databases store data on one central physical server. For small projects, with less sensitive data, this type of structure is the way to go. However, a central server means a central point of failure. So, if your project stores a lot of personal data, you should consider a more secure solution.
In this case, databases store data on several distributed servers. These servers do not have to share a physical location, and they are more secure. If one of them is breached, the rest of the data is safely stored away. However, data can still be tampered with.
Blockchain is the best-known example of this type of database and they work by sharing the database within a decentralized network. Each part of the network holds an exact copy of the data for safekeeping. Every time a query is made, at least 51% of the network has to validate the request, otherwise, the action fails. This type of database is the most secure, as it uses a democratic way of verification and validation. Simply put, a malevolent entity cannot interfere with the information, without breaking into the entire network at once. So no central point of failure as they would change the data in every single copy.
You may have heard of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud or Microsoft’s Azure. These are only a few of the many services we have today for cloud computing and cloud storing. In simple terms, cloud hosting is providing a virtual environment for you where you can store your data.
Database design is crucial
Next step, you need to design your database. Database design is the process of defining your users’ requirements while creating the logic behind your project.
Whether your using a relational database or not, designing a database is in a sense a form of art. It requires you to know your project inside and out as well as understanding your target group.
Only time can tell what the future holds
You database will go through changes, along with your users’ needs. However, they will never be so crucial that you have to start over. So a good base is the way to go. Aside from that, changing any database, relational or not, will be a pain, especially for the inexperienced. Hence, the best way to go is to find a reliable sysadmin that undersands your project specs and can maintain your database.
Backup and Restore will save your life
The final step in planning any strategy is creating backup systems. Remember that this is a strategy you are putting in place, and as with every strategy you need to have a backup plan. In this situation, you or your trusted sysadmin have to prepare for the worst.
Therefore, make sure you have backup systems into place that save your data for any situation. If anything goes wrong, your data will be safe and ready for restoring at any given time. Make this your golden rule, because, after all, backup and restore will save your life.
In conclusion of our databases for beginners breakdown, databases are the heart and soul of your business. Whatever type you choose to go with, you need planning, you need to understand your users, and most of all, you need to be prepared. But remember, databases are not a complicated thing. They are just order to the chaos that collecting data can be. So if you do it right from the beginning, your business will thrive and you will always be one step ahead of your users and their needs.
That being said, if you have a project that you want to bring into the digital world and you are not sure how to start, contact us! Our team of experts are here to help you in every step, until your dream becomes a digital reality.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our other posts for more insightful posts that might help you in your first steps. Also, keep an eye on our news feed, where we dissect all of the latest stories in tech.