What is a data warehouse?
The standard answer to this question is it is a database designed to support themanagement decision-making process. A more accurate answer might be that it is where business managers can find the information they need to run the business correctly. Notice that the first answer is product-oriented, the second one emphasises functionality.The guru of data warehousing, Bill Inmon, characterises a data warehouse has being:
linked to, but different from, the many production databases that run in anorganisation;
subject-oriented, rather than application-oriented, to provide a consistent view of the business;
integrated, because data is consolidated from different application systems;
time variant, because information has a time dimension, whereas operational datais valid only at a particular moment;
non-volatile, since data is added to the data warehouse, rather than replaced.
Where did the concept come from?
While many people say that the concept of an ‘information’ warehouse came from IBM,a number of companies were building data warehouses during the 1980s but giving themdifferent names. In South Africa, pioneering organisations like Eskom and the former United Building Society set up very large databases for their management and executiveinformation systems well before the warehouse concept was established. IBM can becredited with realising the true potential of a database for management-oriented rather than operational needs, and of course for promoting the concept world-wide.
Why do I need a data warehouse?
Any of the following reasons can apply.1.Organisations have spent many years improving ways to put data into their operational systems; now they are beginning to appreciate the value of getting thatdata out again. However, in many cases the databases that support thoseoperational systems are not suitable for quick and easy access to information.2.Application databases are designed to handle data for specific, quite narrow purposes, not integrated organisational views.3.The IS department often does not want to allow users on the operational systemfor fear of degrading the system with resource-intensive queries, or breaching datasecurity and integrity.4.The data management differences between databases for application systems andfor decision-making cannot be re-conciled on one system.5.The software tools that users need should be on platforms that make it easy toaccess and use data - the operational platform may not be suitable.