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Data Warehousing – The Vision

Originally published December 1, 2011

Everybody knows that data warehousing was a visionary phenomenon. Unlike other product-driven phenomenon, data warehousing started with a vision.
Consider the world before there was a data warehouse. There was no business intelligence. There was no corporate data. There were very few key performance indicators (KPIs) to speak of. There was a world of online transaction processing (OLTP). It was once said the “real men do OLTP.” Anything else was considered to be fluff, unworthy of the attention of a “real” professional.

One of the curiosities of the OLTP mind-set was that there was to be one and only one database. A database was something that served ALL informational purposes. It is easy to see where this notion evolved. Prior to online databases, there were master files. There were master files of many kinds – accounting, sales, finance, etc. The notion behind a database was the idea that all of these master files should be aggregated and integrated. So it was easy to see why the database theoreticians of the OLTP vintage thought that there should be one and only one database serving all purposes.

But database theory did not account for the fact that there were significant and severe differences between online processing and informational processing. Indeed, even the data needed for these purposes was very different. Operational data was classically application oriented while analytical data was corporately oriented. In the early days of data warehousing, it was not obvious that a fundamental transformation of data was needed. Stated differently, the application orientation of data is parochial. This parochial nature of application data was never suited for a corporate perspective of data, where integration of data across multiple parochial applications was needed.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the early day vision of a data warehouse was the physical media over which data was stored. In the early 1990s, the cost and capacity of storage was quite different than what is found today. In the early days of data warehousing, the costs of storage were high and the capacity of storage was limited. Today the costs of storage are much less expensive and the capacity is much greater.

The vision of data warehousing was such that there was going to be more data in the corporation than was ever before witnessed. From the beginning, it was well known that there was going to be a lot of data in a data warehouse. If the costs of data and the capacity of data had remained where they were in the early 1990s, data warehousing would have never become a reality. Instead, what has happened is that the costs dropped and the capacity has expanded. And voila – very large data warehouses of today are the result. For the vision of data warehousing to become a reality, there had to be advances in storage technology that were unknown when the vision of data warehousing was first articulated.

The vision for data warehouses continues to expand to this day. Today’s current vision for data warehousing includes the gathering and transformation of textual data. Database management systems have been very awkward for the storage and management of text. But now there is technology – textual ETL – that allows text to be gathered, transformed, and stored in a relational database management system. Transformed and storing text in a relational database management system opens that text to the world of analytic processing.

Thus, the vision of data warehousing continues to grow.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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