What are analytical databases, and what are some of their benefits and drawbacks?

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Operational databases support online transactional processing (OLTP). They’re great, as that term suggests, for processing transactions. Indeed, they’re highly optimized for exactly that.

Optimization for transactions tends to mean, in practice, de-optimization for analysis. So, when we need to analyze data, we often extract it from OLTP systems and restructure it for analytical purposes. In other words, we create an analytical database. These systems, in turn, are very bad at doing transactions (updating customer accounts) but very good at handling analytical queries (how much cat food have we sold, month by month for the past five years, in Kansas?).

This was first published in May 2011

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