When should you use a database instead of a spreadsheet?
And A Win-Win Hybrid Solution
Spreadsheets and databases are two of the most popular tools used to store and analyze data. Both technologies have been around for a long time; databases date to the early 1970s and spreadsheets are a more “recent” evolution (with VisiCalc’s debut in 1979) offering greater flexibility and scalability.
Spreadsheets: Pervasive, Approachable Data Analysis
It’s no surprise that spreadsheets, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, are ubiquitous in business settings (there are conservatively 750M users worldwide), due to their easy-to-use interface and ability to quickly generate charts. However, spreadsheets do have some drawbacks; they can become difficult to manage when dealing with large datasets (over 1 million rows), and require manual updates if the underlying data changes.
Newer spreadsheet products like Airtable now allow users to link tables together in ways similar to traditional database structures. However, this still requires manual effort from the user, and the Airtable row limits are more restrictive than spreadsheets.
When should you use a spreadsheet?
You should usually use a spreadsheet instead of a database when you:
- Need a quick and easy way to enter and manipulate data
- Have a limited amount of data to store
- Want to transform the data using functions and formulas
(Be sure to read ahead for a hybrid database-spreadsheet solution!)
Databases & Warehouses: Data Insights At Scale
Relational databases, such as MySQL and Postgres, offer more robust tools for data storage and analysis compared to spreadsheets. Databases allow users to query large datasets quickly and efficiently, making them ideal for complex analytics. However, databases do require a greater degree of technical understanding from the user (i.e., SQL); they are generally not as intuitive or easy-to-use as spreadsheet applications. In addition, many database solutions also require additional resources in order to scale up when dealing with larger datasets. This is something that is usually unnecessary with spreadsheets.
Some organizations may choose to use a data warehouse solution such as Snowflake or Google Big Query if they need an even higher level of scalability than what traditional databases can provide. Data warehouses are essentially specialized databases that can handle large volumes of data and offer more powerful query capabilities. However, these solutions require a much greater degree of technical expertise from the user than traditional database solutions, and typically come with additional costs associated with scaling them up for larger datasets.
When should you use a database?
In general, you should use a database instead of a spreadsheet when you:
- Have large amounts of data to store and manage (beyond Excel’s 1,048,576 row limit),
- Must access data from multiple users or sources
- Need to query data quickly
Can I have both?
Overall, spreadsheets and databases each have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to storing and analyzing data. Spreadsheets are great for quick analytics; however they may not be suitable for managing large datasets due to size limitations. Databases provide users with more robust tools for querying data; however, they require a higher level of technical understanding from the user as well as additional resources in order to scale up if needed.
What if there was a way to combine the two? What if there was a real spreadsheet-database built for big data analysis? A platform that would allow business users the ability to work with big datasets in complex formats without learning how to set up or configure the complex database infrastructure.
Enter Gigasheet, a Spreadsheet Database.
Gigasheet is a big data spreadsheet designed to make it easier for anyone to manipulate, enrich, and analyze datasets of up to 1 billion rows— no IT infrastructure, SQL, code, or other technical skills required. Teams of users and analysts can easily collaborate and analyze common data types, including CSV, JSON, and XLS, and enrich data via free and premium external APIs. Gigasheet makes it easy to convert or combine data files and import data directly from databases, cloud storage, data lakes, and more.
Gigasheet is the solution for anyone with spreadsheet skills looking to get the most out of their data without the heavy database lift and technical know-how. Gigasheet is currently free up to 3GB, so give it a try.
In conclusion, both spreadsheets and databases have their advantages depending on the type of data being stored. Spreadsheets are great for small datasets where ease of use and collaboration are important. However, for larger datasets, databases provide a more reliable way to store and access data with greater scalability. If you have the resources and technical know-how, databases can be a great choice for managing large amounts of complex data. If you’re looking for a quick and powerful way to analyze big data in a spreadsheet-like interface, try Gigasheet as a hybrid solution.
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