In the digital age, data is king. The businesses that can successfully store, maintain and make sense of their data have a clear competitive advantage, while those that let the flow of information overwhelm them are destined to fall by the wayside.
With businesses sitting on more data than ever before, the demand for software to handle this vital task is at an all-time high. According to Gartner, the database management system market totaled over $34 billion in 2016 (report available to Gartner clients).
All that to say: If you're in the market for a new database management system, you're not alone. If you're confused on what to look for or where to start with this software, you're certainly not alone there either.
We're here to help. In the Buyer's Guide below, we'll go over definitions, functionality, pricing models and more to help first-time database management system buyers like yourself make sense of this complex software arena.
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Database management systems, also known as DBMSs, are software programs that act as a connecting point between databases and the various users and applications that need to access them. The purpose of a DBMS is to provide businesses with an access point to create, retrieve, modify and organize their vast amounts of data.
Though the terms have become somewhat synonymous over time, a database and a DBMS are not the same thing. A database is simply a collection of related data. A DBMS, on the other hand, is a tool to manage and organize multiple databases. In other words, the database stores the data, while the DBMS accesses and manipulates it.
The database management system market is rarely static. As businesses' data capabilities and needs have grown over the past 40 years, the database management system has taken on many different forms.
Here are the two most common types of DBMSs you should know about:
1) Relational database management systems (rDBMSs)
Relational database management systems connect disparate data using tables with columns (“fields") and rows (“records"). The main advantage that rDBMSs bring is the ability to spread a single database across several tables, which provides benefits in terms of data storage and access capabilities. Most rDMBSs use what's called “structural querying language" (SQL): a series of commands that allow users or applications to retrieve or update data.
According to Gartner, rDBMSs account for 89 percent of the total DBMS market, making them the bread and butter of the industry. Popular systems here include Oracle Database, Microsoft's SQL Server, MySQL and IBM's DB2.
2) Semi-structured database management systems
In contrast to the rigid tables of rDBMSs, semi-structured database management systems offer more flexibility. Data can be structured as much or as little as possible depending on the purpose, usually with tags or other markers to define attributes and categories. In the age of the internet where data takes many forms, semi-structured database management systems have become increasingly important, as they enable applications to communicate with one another with ease and without loss of information.
Semi-structured DBMSs are on the rise. While they only represent five percent of the total DBMS market, their growth rate (78 percent) was the highest of any type of DBMS in 2016 according to Gartner. Big players here include Amazon, Cloudera and MapR.
The other major type of DBMS is called a “Prerelational-era DBMS"—an antiquated category that no longer has any relevance to first-time buyers.
DBMSs provide a number of benefits to both internal users and external parties like customers or clients. If you're having trouble convincing stakeholders in your organization that new software is a worthwhile investment, let them know that a DBMS can provide:
A big headache when researching DBMS vendors is the lack of concrete pricing information. A lot of companies don't want to reveal how much their system costs for a number of reasons. The final price might vary from business case to business case or the vendor might simply want to get you on the phone to sell their system.
In general though, DMBSs will have one of two pricing models, which we explain in the table below:
|Per-user subscription pricing||This type of pricing is more common with cloud-based systems. You pay a monthly or annual fee based on how many users will have access to the DBMS. Airtable is a good example of this approach.|
|Perpetual pricing||This type of pricing is more common with on-premise systems. With this model, you pay one large fee upfront to own the software in perpetuity. Oracle Database is a good example of this model.|
As I mentioned before, the DBMS market is always changing. Here are some trends to keep an eye on as you research different systems:
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