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What Do You Mean, Post-Relational
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[This product] is a relational database management system that literally redefines the meaning of relational. Advertisement for a commercial DBMS product he December 1999 issue of Database Trends (Vol. 13, No. 12) included an article titled The Changing Database Landscape, by Joe DeSantis. The author was identified as Director of Software Development at InterSystems Corporation, and that company in turn was described as the leading provider of post-relational [sic] database technology for high performance transaction processing applications. In his article (hereinafter referred to as the subject article), the author claimed that we are entering a new era of network-centric computing [that requires] a new kind of database technology: the so-called post-relational database. I have two immediate knee-jerk reactions to this claim, one perhaps minor, the other much less so. The minor one has to do with one of my pet linguistic peeves! the semantic overloading of the term database, which is apparently used here as a synonym for database technology. Elsewhere in the subject article, however (fairly ubiquitously, in fact), it s used to mean DBMS ... and on at least one occasion (possibly more than one) it s actually used to mean database. Why is the IT field so cavalier in its use of terminology The problem, of course, is this: If we call (say) the DBMS a database, then what do we call the database Anyway regardless of what you might think of the foregoing possibly rather trivial complaint the second and more important issue is: What on earth does post-relational mean anyway Is the concept defined anywhere Is it post -relational in any sense other than the trivial and overblown one of marketing hype Please understand that these are not idle questions; it s well known that domains and relations the principal kinds of data objects provided by the relational model are between them necessary and sufficient to represent absolutely any kind of data whatsoever at the logical level (i.e., we must have domains and relations, and we don t need anything else). So anybody proposing something that isn t relational and I have to assume that whatever else it might be, post-relational certainly isn t relational better have an extremely strong argument to buttress his or her rather radical position. In fact, it appears from remarks elsewhere in the subject article that a post-relational DBMS might just be one that supports both a multi-dimensional view and a relational view of the same underlying database. If this hypothesis on my part is correct, then I have no problem
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CHAPTER 21 WHAT DO YOU MEAN, POST-RELATIONAL
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with the concept, even if I don t much care for the name; we all know that multi-dimensional views can be useful for certain kinds of processing. However, the subject article seems to be confused over the all-important distinction between the logical and physical levels of the system. In particular, it seems to suggest that the data should be represented multi-dimensionally at both levels (since it doesn t properly distinguish between them), and how a relational view of that same data is supposed to be supported on top of that multi-dimensional representation is nowhere explained.
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What About Object Technology
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To get back to the subject article s overall thesis: The author claims that post-relational technology, whatever that technology might consist of, is required because relational ... technology is failing to scale up to today s business needs (a point I want to come back to later). The author further claims that, by contrast, object technology: Is excellent at modeling complex data Can be extremely scalable Can simplify the development process and decrease time to market and Is [able] to plug into the Internet (a fact that is probably the most compelling reason for switching to object technology ) Despite these claimed advantages, the subject article nevertheless says that object technology is not the answer to every enterprise computing need. Why not Because (to quote further): Certain business functions ... may benefit from a centralized data repository. (The relevance or otherwise of objects or relations, come to that to this particular point is unclear, at least to me.) Even more important is the huge investment that most companies have already made in their relational systems ... Objects require a new and different approach to data modeling, and most businesses quail at the thought of retraining their technical staff. I find it interesting, and telling, that the author doesn t seem to find or mention any technical problems with object technology! While objects might have their uses, serving as a basis on which to build databases in the classical sense of that term i.e., databases that are intended for shared, general-purpose use is certainly not one of them. See, e.g., my book An Introduction to Database Systems, 8th edition (Addison-Wesley, 2004), for arguments in support of this position.
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