The advantage of columnar databases for marketers

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Chris Dunne
Chris Dunne

A well-designed, well-tuned relational database has long been essential to a good database marketing system. However, over the past few years a different type of database, a columnar database, has become a strong alternative to the typical row-based relational database. Columnar databases have the ability to improve performance and lower costs and are receiving increased attention among database marketers.

In a row-based relational database, data is stored by row, usu­ally in large files. Data is then accessed from the database by reading and returning full rows of data. Alternatively, within a columnar database, data is stored at a more granular column lev­el, usually in the form of many small files. Thus, when querying a columnar database, the entire row does not need to be read, only the columns associated with the query. This columnar structure improves the ef­ficiency of online analytic pro­cessing (OLAP) applications, such as business intelligence and campaign management; thus allowing complex results to be selected and returned much faster. In addition, because each attribute is stored as a separate column, derived and aggregated attributes can easily be added without major changes or table resizing. With improved query speeds and easily added attributes, business intelligence updates, data mart refreshes and universe builds can be accomplished more efficiently.

Another benefit of using columnar database solutions is the lower cost of ownership. Because the many small columnar files require less throughput capacity than their traditional full-table file counterparts, hardware requirements are reduced. Expensive large-scale disks can be replaced with lower-cost alternatives while still improving performance. In addition, newer dual and quad core processors provide increased processing power and enable less expensive mid-range servers to replace larger, more expensive enterprise-level servers. Maintenance costs and operat­ing system costs also can be kept to a minimum with the use of open-source and Windows-based solutions.

One final advantage of a columnar database is its ability to easily integrate into an existing marketing system simply by feed­ing data from a data warehouse or from outside sources. Many database marketing vendors and service providers are equipped to guide marketers through this process and have already devel­oped suites of tools supporting the columnar database structure. These tool suites include data discovery, reporting, campaign management, analytics and modeling.

Improved marketing efficiency, increased intelligence and lower overall costs are all possible with a columnar database structure. Database marketers should investigate the advantages this new approach could bring to their own marketing systems.

Chris Dunne is VP of market development for ChoicePoint Precision Mar­keting. Reach him at christopher.dunne@choicepoint.com.

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