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What is a data warehouse? Though the term, data warehouse, has been around since the 1980s, the mysteries surrounding it have grown. Perhaps that is more due to the growth of other names such as, operation system, RAM, memory, database, and so many others that have accompanied the sudden emergence of the computer industry. It is interesting, though, to find a term coined long before the others to be less evident than those terms that followed.

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Dispensing with the highly complex intricacies of information transfer where packets are encrypted and sent along a pathway to analytic and storage units or other working systems, the esoteric nature of computer storage lends confusion to those not introduced to the subject. Suffice it to say there are three essential parts to an information system with several essential components within each part.

Most users are familiar with the operating system which includes their keyboards, monitors, desktop computers, and other peripheral ingredients that modern workers take for granted. The second part of an information system is the database where the information gathered by workers and input into the system updates in real time. The third part is the data warehouse. In the data warehouse, a continuous feed of information Is stored, including a history of changes or updates. To understand the implications of the differences in as simple terms as possible, consider the inner workings of one of the five national banks in the U.S. Each teller, loan officer, and administrator use a terminal which is the operating system. There are tens of thousands of terminals accessing and updating the information to the local database. These databases are closed to each department. Thus, a human resources database does not intrude on a transaction database and vice-versa. Each database updates the information to the data warehouse and is stored into perpetuity unless purposely deleted or set to sunset at a given time.

The Data Warehouse

The data warehouse has seen many permutations. When first proposed back in the 1980s, the data warehouse modeled the core memory of desktop computers today. At the time, the concept of a single operating system amongst thousands as capable of storing terabytes of information was fantastical. Just as the ancient Greeks began the concept of a civilization predicated on a free social structure, the founders of the data warehouse envisioned something lasting, even though the constructs have grown into virtual reality. A data warehouse is structured along a dual pattern. The data warehouse deals in facts and dimensions. Whereas facts are related to a businesses everyday process and operating system dynamics, dimensions relate to the number of sales, the person making the sale, addresses of customers, phone numbers, contact points, and so on. In other words, facts are measurements and dimensions are context. When first initialized, data warehouses were physical, requiring considerable expense to set up. Today, as pointed out in Forbes, data warehouses have moved to a virtual reality called the “cloud.”

The Advantage

The nature of a database limits searchability. The concept of updating data in real time demands that any search through a database freeze the existing data to allow for the search to continue. Indeed, more than one search is impossible when utilizing a database. With a data warehouse, searches do not interfere with the input of data as there are multiple avenues through which that data arrives. Multiple searches are possible during any time frame. The structure of a data warehouse, while allowing authorized access to qualified personnel, also enhances security as anti-hacking tools can exist without delaying a proper search.

The Question

The question, “What is a data warehouse,” is indicative of the confusion the normal worker sees when dealing with search parameters. The overuse of the term “database” helps deliver that confusion. Data warehouses are the repository through which you are searching; the database is where you update the information to be sent on to the data warehouse.

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