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Choosing the Database System Type
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Before we can design a database, we have to decide whether the system will be an Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) system or an Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) system. We could find this out prior to our first meeting with the users, or even during the first meeting, but the choice of OLTP or OLAP will probably be indicated in the initial proposal. Before we make the decision, we need to understand these two key types of systems.
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OLTP
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An OLTP system provides instant updates of data. There is a good chance that an OLTP database system has a separate user front end written in a .NET language such as Visual Basic .NET (VB .NET), C#, or ASP.NET. This user front end calls through to the database and instantly updates any changes a user has made to the underlying data. OLTP systems require many considerations to ensure they re fast, reliable, and can keep the data integrity intact. When you design an OLTP system, it s crucial that you get not only the database structure right, but also where the data physically resides. It s common to find that OLTP systems are normalized to third normal form (more on what this term means later in the chapter), although this may not happen in every case. By normalizing your data, you will aid the achievement of one of the main goals of an OLTP system: keeping data updates as short as possible. When you normalize your data by removing redundant or duplicate columns, you should ensure that the data to be written is as compact as possible. In many OLTP systems, normalization is king.
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Many OLTP systems are in use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The high frequency of changes in such a system s data means that backing up the database is a necessary and mandatory task. It is possible to back up a database while SQL Server is in use, although it is best to perform a backup when SQL Server is either not in use or when there will be a small amount of activity updating the data taking place. The ideal time frame might be in the middle of the night or even during a break period. Whenever you decide to perform a backup, it s crucial that you constantly monitor and check it within an OLTP system to see that the system is still performing as desired. You would not be the first person to find that what you thought was a valid backup that could be restored in a disaster situation was in fact corrupt, incomplete, or just not happening. Therefore, periodically take a backup from production and reload it in to a secure development area just to confirm that it works.
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CHAPTER 3 DATABA SE DES IGN AN D C REA TION
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Speed is essential to a successful OLTP system. You should see a higher number of indexes within an OLTP system as compared to an OLAP system, with these indexes used not only to help relate data from one table to another, but also to allow fast access to rows within tables themselves.
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6 covers how to build indexes, how indexes work, and how to manage indexes within your solutions.
OLAP
When considering an OLTP system, you must keep in mind that an update to the database could happen at any moment in time, and that update must be reflected within the database instantly. It is also crucial that the system performs many updates simultaneously, and that it does not corrupt any data when it does so. An OLAP system is designed with the premise that the data remains fairly static with infrequent updates. These updates could be every night, weekly, monthly, or any other time variant as long as updates aren t happening on a frequent basis, like in an OLTP system. As the name Online Analytical Processing suggests, in this system a large amount of the processing involves analysis of existing data. There should be little or no updating of that data ostensibly only when the data within the analysis is found to be incorrect or, as mentioned previously, when more data is being applied for analysis. Backing up the data will probably take place only as a final action, after the database has had changes applied to it. There is no need to make it a regular occurrence. Systems designed for OLAP sometimes do not follow any design standards or normalization techniques, and most certainly have fewer indexes than an OLTP system. You tend to see no normalization in an OLAP system, as it is easier to take data and to slice and dice it without having to bring in data from a normalized table. There will be few or no updates taking place in an OLAP system, so performing transactions and keeping them compact aren t concerns. Most OLAP systems will contain no normalization. Quite often, you ll find one or two large flat tables rather than several tables related together and therefore as there are fewer relationships, there will be fewer indexes.
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