Which is better for semi-archives: DBMS or file system?

Sometimes the simplest storage method is the best method as well.

What you will learn from this tip: The best (and cheapest!) way to organize files containing seldom-accessed documents.


Sometimes the simplest storage method is the best method as well. Although we think of organizing a collection of information as a job for a DBMS such as Oracle or SQL Server, there are times when the operating system's own file system is the best organizer.

This applies given a specific, but fairly common, set of criteria. Take, for example, a collection of static documents such as product application notes or images. This type of material seldom changes, although additional items may be added at regular intervals, and is accessed infrequently, say once a day or less. Generally, each document is retrieved and used in its entirety, and the search criteria used are extremely simple, often nothing more than a date or a title. In this case, the file system may be the best way to store the material.

In order for this to work, the directory structure must be logical and easy to follow in order to support efficient document retrieval. It's also important to remind users not to keep too many documents in each directory/folder.

You can use a DBMS for semi-archiving purposes, but most of the time it isn't necessary. A DBMS is optimized for using complex search criteria to locate and extract specific files containing many pieces of information and presenting it in multiple complex formats. The best use for a DBMS in an application like this is as a repository for metadata on the files.

For more information:

Tip: Is WORM media necessary for archiving?

Tip: How to ease into archiving through backup

Tip: E-mail archive applications combat storage woes

About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years, he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

This was first published in October 2004

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