Data Analysis for the Faint of Heart
If you are new to database design, most likely the idea of data analysis is completely foreign to you. This article is intended to give you a simple introduction to what data analysis means. Keep in mind that data analysis is a comprehensive discipline and that we are only just going to scratch the surface here.
A successful database design depends on a complete and accurate understanding of the problem the database is intended to solve and the data needed to provide the solution. A working database is a collection of data required to solve related business problems. Analyzing the data involves examining the overall 'problem' and breaking the problem down into smaller and smaller sub-problems and sub-sub-problems. Ultimately, you reach a point where a problem can't be subdivided any further.
Here's a practical example. We have a number of rectangular containers. We rent these containers and the rent charged is based on the capacity, or volume of the container. The problem at hand is, what information do we need to know about a vessel in order to determine its capacity. Basically, we need to know four things.
The first thing I need to know is how to calculate a container's volume. For a rectangular container, the volume is calculated by multiplying the area of the container's base by its height. However, the area is itself a calculation in which width is multiplied by length.
Now that we have determined how to caculate the volume, we know that we will need to know the container's length, width, and height.
From this analysis we can determine that, for each container, we will need to store its length, height, and width in a table. Queries, forms and reports will be able to use these stored values to calculate a container's volume. The invoicing component of my database application will be able to use this calculation to determine how much to bill the customer.
That's the general thought process that goes into developing a database structure. The process can be described as a series of steps:
Step one - state the problem
Step two - break the problem down into its simplest parts
Step three - design the table structure
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