Database Administrators and Database Users

A primary goal of a database system is to retrieve information from and store new information in the database. People who work with a database can be categorized as database users or database administrators.

Database Users and User Interfaces

There are four different types of database-system users, differentiated by the way they expect to interact with the system. Different types of user interfaces have been designed for the different types of users.

Naive users are unsophisticated users who interact with the system by invoking one of the application programs that have been written previously. For example, a bank teller who needs to transfer $50 from account A to account B invokes a program called transfer. This program asks the teller for the amount of money to be transferred, the account from which the money is to be transferred, and the account to which the money is to be transferred.

As another example, consider a user who wishes to find her account balance over the World Wide Web. Such a user may access a form, where she enters her account number. An application program at the Web server then retrieves the account balance, using the given account number, and passes this information back to the user. The typical user interface for naive users is a forms interface, where the user can fill in appropriate fields of the form. Naive users may also simply read reports generated from the database.

Application programmers are computer professionals who write application programs. Application programmers can choose from many tools to develop user interfaces. Rapid application development (RAD) tools are tools that enable an application programmer to construct forms and reports without writing a program. There are also special types of programming languages that combine imperative control structures (for example, for loops, while loops and if-then-else statements) with statements of the data manipulation language. These languages, sometimes called fourth-generation languages, often include special features to facilitate the generation of forms and the display of data on the screen. Most major commercial database systems include a fourth generation language. Sophisticated users interact with the system without writing programs. Instead, they form their requests in a database query language. They submit each such query to a query processor, whose function is to break down DML statements into instructions that the storage manager understands. Analysts who submit queries to explore data in the database fall in this category.

Online analytical processing (OLAP) tools simplify analysts’ tasks by letting them view summaries of data in different ways. For instance, an analyst can see total sales by region (for example, North, South, East, and West), or by product, or by a combination of region and product (that is, total sales of each product in each region). The tools also permit the analyst to select specific regions, look at data in more detail (for example, sales by city within a region) or look at the data in less detail (for example, aggregate products together by category).

Another class of tools for analysts is data mining tools, which help them find certain kinds of patterns in data.

Specialized users are sophisticated users who write specialized database applications that do not fit into the traditional data-processing framework.

Among these applications are computer-aided design systems, knowledge base and expert systems, systems that store data with complex data types (for example, graphics data and audio data), and environment-modeling systems.

Database Administrator

One of the main reasons for using DBMSs is to have central control of both the data and the programs that access those data. A person who has such central control over the system is called a database administrator (DBA). The functions of a DBA include: Schema definition. The DBA creates the original database schema by executing a set of data definition statements in the DDL.

Storage structure and access-method definition.
Schema and physical-organization modification. The DBA carries out changes to the schema and physical organization to reflect the changing needs of the organization, or to alter the physical organization to improve performance.

Granting of authorization for data access. By granting different types of authorization, the database administrator can regulate which parts of the database various users can access. The authorization information is kept in a special system structure that the database system consults whenever someone attempts to access the data in the system.

Routine maintenance. Examples of the database administrator’s routine maintenance activities are:

Periodically backing up the database, either onto tapes or onto remote servers, to prevent loss of data in case of disasters such as flooding.

Ensuring that enough free disk space is available for normal operations, and upgrading disk space as required.

Monitoring jobs running on the database and ensuring that performance is not degraded by very expensive tasks submitted by some users.