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The term integrated database is used to describe two different database structures: connection of multiple databases or a database built into another application or tool. Although the initial description would appear to mean that these two structures are quite different, they are not. In fact, they possess many of the same structures.
A database is a collection of data from a range of different sources organized under one structure. The database itself if made up of a series of semi-independent data tables. Each table holds specific information, typically with one focus per table. The database can create links between the separate tables, based on common elements, information, or programming logic. Queries can be written to create reports accessing all the different tables in the database.
Connecting multiple databases into an integrated database is a very complex task. Connections between the different databases must be made and tested from a variety of perspectives to ensure that the logic is sound. The different databases can also exist in different formats or programs. This adds to the complexity but may be achieved using advanced programming logic and powerful resources.
A common example of an integrated database is LexisNexis®. This tool provides access to content from a wide range of public sources, published information, and online information. The files remain with the original source, but a complex logic allows users to identify documents that exist in multiple databases with one tool. The time savings achieved by this method is a huge benefit to users, as this type of search would normally take several days to complete.
There is a wide range of software that can be modified to work with an integrated database. The complexity of the work required depends on the language the software is written in and the organization of the database. An excellent example of this type of software is a website content management software program. This type of software publishes information to the Internet based on the database that holds all the different files, text, and images.
Using an integrated database, the content management tool can populate the website with current, relevant data from the accounting system, images from the document sharing tool, and sound files from the press office. Although this work is complex, there are significant savings to be achieved by not creating duplicate copies of the same database tables for each distinct purpose. The actual data remains in one location, and is available for various applications to use as required.
At work I use a special technology in software development that makes integrating databases a breeze. It’s called a data access layer and it creates an in memory representation of a database, a kind of virtual database if you will.
I can pull information from Oracle, SQL Server, Access and DB2 and populate the virtual database in my application. At that point I can interact with the virtual database alone, making changes to it as needed.
When I’m ready to update the original data sources, I use a set of functions that will push the data back to their sources. It’s basically like copying data from all the different locations into one big temporary table, manipulating it, then pushing the data back.
That makes data integration easy. You can be so much more productive when you don’t care where the data comes from.