Databases: The Ubiquitous Information Provider

We are all aware that we live in an information age. In fact, we could say that there are three major characteristics of today's society: pervasive connectivity, universal mobility, and abundant information. Pervasive connectivity and universal mobility enable the abundance of information that is available. However, the primary contributor in our access to abundant information is database technology. Let's see how databases support our need to obtain in-depth information.

  • Searching to buy a specific item (e.g., an appliance, a service, clothing, a book, and so on):  We have all used an Internet search provider. The information provided is usually a list of the particular item for which we are searching, as identified by a keyword. It is mind-boggling to think of the size and complexity of the databases that provide indexes to find what we want. The amount of data that must be stored, searched, and retrieved to answer a simple query for a product or service in a particular location is staggering.

  • Conducting in-depth research before purchasing a major item such as a car:  The information you need to buy a car includes items like the car's repair history, performance data, and safety record. You may also be interested in other people's opinions. This information can be obtained in such places as Consumer Reports, which is maintained in databases. You might find people's opinions in ratings, comments, or even in some blogs; these are all provided by databases.

  • Planning a vacation or trip:  In this case, we want geographical and resort information as well as information about sites and activities to see and do. We also seek information about travel arrangements, including schedules, costs, and availability. Information systems may have to access multiple databases—airline databases, detailed resort or accommodations databases, site databases, activities databases, and even geological road map databases.

  • Learning about a particular hobby or sport that you enjoy, such as skiing, boating, or coin collecting:  Almost all hobbies and sports have organizations and clubs that generate related articles and conferences. The articles and information are largely stored in databases maintained by these organizations.

  • Researching a particular company before investing in it:   Many institutions maintain databases of financial records.  There are databases that provide detailed histories of every publicly-traded company. Some of these databases are publicly available, but even more details are available through private databases maintained by individual financial service companies.

  • Researching a particular medical condition or medical problem:  There are also extensive databases with information about various illnesses, medications, and treatments. Many individuals also comment and write blogs about personal experiences with particular illnesses. Of course, not all of this information is valuable and correct. However, databases in almost every case provide the information repository.

  • Solving a technical problem or learning a new technical skill such as administering a Linux server:  One of the interesting phenomena in today's technical world is that for almost every problem that a developer or technical person encounters, someone else has already encountered it and there is a solution or additional training available. Most of these answers are on forums, blogs, or online documentation. All of these information sources are maintained by databases.

  • Writing a research paper or researching for a school project:  Although many research articles and books are not stored in databases per se, keyword and topic search capability is always supported by search engine databases. In addition, depending on the research project, databases are available from newspapers, research organizations, and online libraries.

  • Browsing Wikipedia:  Who of us has not used Wikipedia from time to time to get a quick understanding of a particular subject? Wikipedia, as well as the keyword indexes, are maintained in a database.

It should be apparent from this section and the previous one that databases impact our lives in a multitude of ways in almost everything we learn and do. The ability to understand, design, build, maintain, and administer databases is an important and powerful skill to have.