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The Windward Learning Series: Introduction to Digital Data

Posted on 04/24/2014

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And now, for something a little different.

Most readers of this blog are software experts who are heavily technical. But you probably have been asked by others in your company — perhaps by that eager intern or the seasoned salesperson who is new to data technology — just exactly what it is that you do. And it can be tough to explain to folks who are missing a baseline level of knowledge regarding digital data.

So here’s a short series of blog posts on the major data storage categories. Feel free to use the social toolbar above to share this introduction to those new to or unclear about data.

The One-Minute Overview

Digital data is information stored in a digital format, usually a computer. It is an integral part of all software applications, ranging from an iCal iPhone app to massive computer simulations of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some applications need only to read pre-determined data, while others need to be able to write, search, and analyze the data as well. In some cases, the information needs to be widely distributed to the entire world. In other cases, it needs to be accessible only by a select few.

All of these systems have their own needs when it comes to data, which has led to a massive number of different technologies. Each of these have their own advantages and drawbacks.

In this series of posts, we are going to examine a few of the major categories along with some analysis on when they should and should not be used. This is not an exhaustive list, but we will cover the most commonly used groups. Some technologies fit in multiple categories as well.

File-Based Data

AccessDatabaseFile-based data is saved in a single file. In the most basic case, this is a text document containing a list. In the most complex case, there are single-file databases like Microsoft Access.

File-based data sources are the most accessible option, but they lack more complex functionality than the other data types include. Learn more about file-based data.

SQL-Based Data

MySQL Logo.svgThis is what someone typically means when they say “database.” SQL-based data sources are a proven technology and have been used in production environments for decades. Major examples include Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and MySQL.

While they have many powerful built-in features, the structure can be limiting depending on the specific use case, and they require more complex setup and IT administration. Learn more about SQL-based data.

Web-Based Data

Salesforce LogoAlongside web applications is the need to pass the required data over the Internet. These Web-based data formats are primarily used to transfer data over a network, such as the Internet or a private intranet, between multiple applications. Examples include JSON and data.

These formats are relatively lightweight for performance reasons, but they need to be standardized so the data can be easily shared. Learn more about Web-based data.

Get the Whole Digital Data Series

Stay tuned for our next post, a deeper look at file-based data. And remember, you can receive the whole series in your email inbox by subscribing to our company blog via the email subscription box on the upper right of this page.


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Author: En-jay Hsu

En-jay is a software developer from Boulder, Colorado.

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