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Database Design Best Practices

Designing a database is one of the most important steps in creating scalable and high-performance applications. Database administrators (DBAs) must keep several best practices in mind when designing their databases, as improper design can lead to decreased performance and even data loss.

Database Design Considerations

First and foremost, administrators need to have a clear understanding of their data. What kind of data are they working with? How is it structured? What are the relationships between different pieces of data?

In addition, it is vital to understand how stakeholders will use the database. For example, is its primary use data analysis or for storing transactional data? Does it need to support real-time reading and writing? In today’s digital-first business environment, many organizations use data as part of their business intelligence gathering, for forecasting, and to inform real-time business decisions.

Getting these considerations ensures the database design is built on a good foundation.

Core Principles of Good Database Design

There are four core principles of good database design: accuracy, accessibility, minimizing redundancy, and meeting expectations.

Accuracy

Accuracy is crucial for maintaining the integrity of data. Inaccurate data can lead to false conclusions and wasted time and resources. To ensure accuracy, users must enter data correctly and consistently. Data should also be verified regularly to identify any errors that may have been introduced.

Accessibility

Accessibility is essential for ensuring that data is retrievable quickly and easily. Users should be able to find the information they need without difficulty.

To achieve this, data must be well organized and stored logically. Database administrators can help to improve accessibility by creating clear and concise indexes and documenting the database structure.

Minimize redundancy

Minimizing redundancy is critical for reducing storage costs and eliminating errors. Duplicate copies of data waste space and can introduce inaccuracies if not correctly synced.

When designing a database, DBAs should avoid duplicating data unnecessarily. If identical copies of data are needed, efforts should be made to ensure that the copies are kept up to date.

Meet expectations

It is vital to design a database that meets the needs of users. Database administrators should consult with users to understand their needs and expectations. Then, the database should be designed to make it easy for users to find and retrieve the data they need.

10 Best Practices for Database Design

1. Determine your database goals

Designing a database without first determining your goals is a recipe for disaster. By not consulting with all stakeholders, such as project managers, power users, and devs, you risk missing out on important information that could help inform your design decisions.

For example, you may not realize how much data needs to be stored or how users will access it. This can lead to problems down the road when your database cannot meet users’ needs.

Additionally, not understanding the goals of your database can make it challenging to optimize performance or ensure data quality.

2. Keep it simple

In the world of database design, the principle of “keeping it simple” is often cited as a best practice. The idea is that a complex database is more challenging to maintain and more prone to errors than a simpler one.

This is especially true when making changes to the database structure. With a complex database, it can be challenging to understand how all the pieces fit together, making it more likely that you will accidentally break something when making a change.

By contrast, a simpler database is easier to understand and less likely to cause problems when changes are made. In addition, a simpler database is often more efficient since fewer components must be processed to retrieve data.

3. Choose the right database type

Database design best practices dictate that you choose your database type before moving forward. The two primary options are SQL (structured query language) and NoSQL (not only SQL), though most large enterprises now operate in a hybrid environment that uses both.

In addition to selecting SQL or NoSQL, DBAs also need to determine which data model to use: relational, hierarchical, network, or object-oriented.

Once these decisions have been made, DBAs can then begin the process of normalizing the data. Normalization reduces redundancy and ensures that each piece of data is stored in only one place. Verify dependencies to prevent update, insertion, and deletion anomalies.

4. Build transparent structures

A database is a critical tool for any organization, so it’s crucial to design it in a way that will be clear and easy to use for those who need it. That means building transparent structures and using consistent naming conventions.

It’s also important to avoid shortcuts, abbreviations, or plurals, as they can make the database more difficult to use. And while it’s tempting to try to reinvent the wheel, it’s important to remember that the goal is to make things easier for those who may need to modify the database at some point.

5. Security by design

Security by design is a best practice for database design. Database administrators should think about data security right from the beginning of the design process. By taking security into account from the start, they can avoid potential vulnerabilities and ensure that the database is secure.

Security by design is all about incorporating security into every stage of the development process. It involves identifying potential threats and implementing countermeasures such as encryption to protect the data. Instituting access control and limiting administrative rights are also necessary measures to take.

In addition, security by design helps ensure that the database is always updated with the latest security patches and updates.

6. Keep compliance primary

When designing a database, it is essential to consider compliance with various data privacy laws. Data is heavily regulated, and an organization must consider numerous laws locally and internationally. The numerous jurisdiction-specific laws and regulations include:

  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
  • EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)
  • UK Data Protection Act

Failure to comply with these laws can result in significant penalties, including fines and jail time. As a result, ensuring that the database is designed in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations is essential.

This may require consulting with legal counsel to ensure that the database meets all applicable requirements. It is also imperative to train database administrators on relevant legal provisions.

Furthermore, the organization should regularly review the database to ensure it remains compliant with changing laws and regulations.

7. Breakdown silos

One best practice for database design is breaking down silos between Devs and Databases administrators. When organizations treat the database as distinct from other parts of the IT ecosystem, it can create discrepancies.

To avoid this, it’s important to communicate expectations and loop in the DBAs early and often. That way, everyone is on the same page and working together towards a common goal.

8. Documentation is key

Documentation is an integral part of database design. It helps to ensure that the design is clear and understandable and can be a valuable reference for future changes.

However, documentation can be tedious and time-consuming, and many database administrators (DBAs) dread doing it. Nevertheless, it is essential to include proper documentation in any database design.

The document should include a description of the data model, the tables and columns, the relationships between tables, and other relevant information. In addition, it is vital to keep this documentation up-to-date as the database design evolves.

9. Optimize for speed

DBAs can accomplish this in several ways. For example, creating indexes for regular queries. This speeds up searches by making it unnecessary to search the entire database each time a query is made.

In addition, a database analyzer can be used to determine if an index or a clustered index is necessary. This helps to ensure that only the necessary data is retrieved, further speeding up the search process. Finally, DBAs can use search tools like Elasticsearch to speed up searches.

10. Use a separate server

Finally, use a separate server for the database. This frees up computing resources since the database server can be dedicated to that purpose and configured accordingly.

It also enhances security, as the database server can be isolated from other systems and better secured. In addition, using a separate database server can improve performance, as the database can be sized and configured specifically for optimal performance.

And finally, using a different database server simplifies administration and management, as all databases can be managed in one place.

The Importance of Good Database Design

Database design best practices are essential for ensuring that your database can scale effectively as your needs change and grow over time. With careful planning, you can avoid many common pitfalls that can cause problems down the road.

By following these best practices, you can maximize your investment in your most valuable asset—your data.

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