Disadvantages of a Relational Database

By Anni Martin

Relational databases are widely used in many industries to store financial records, keep track of inventory and to keep records on employees. In a relational database, information is stored in tables (often called relations) which help organize and structure data. Even though they are widely used, relational databases have some drawbacks.


One disadvantage of relational databases is the expensive of setting up and maintaining the database system. In order to set up a relational database, you generally need to purchase special software. If you are not a programmer, you can use any number of products to set up a relational database. It does take time to enter in all the information and set up the program. If your company is large and you need a more robust database, you will need to hire a programmer to create a relational database using Structured Query Language (SQL) and a database administrator to maintain the database once it is built. Regardless of what data you use, you will have to either import it from other data like text files or Excel spreadsheets, or have the data entered at the keyboard. No matter the size of your company, if you store legally confidential or protected information in your database such as health information, social security numbers or credit card numbers, you will also have to secure your data against unauthorized access in order to meet regulatory standards.

Abundance of Information

Advances in the complexity of information cause another drawback to relational databases. Relational databases are made for organizing data by common characteristics. Complex images, numbers, designs and multimedia products defy easy categorization leading the way for a new type of database called object-relational database management systems. These systems are designed to handle the more complex applications and have the ability to be scalable.

Stuctured Limits

Some relational databases have limits on field lengths. When you design the database, you have to specify the amount of data you can fit into a field. Some names or search queries are shorter than the actual, and this can lead to data loss.

Isolated Databases

Complex relational database systems can lead to these databases becoming "islands of information" where the information cannot be shared easily from one large system to another. Often, with big firms or institutions, you find relational databases grew in separate divisions differently. For example, maybe the hospital billing department used one database while the hospital personnel department used a different database. Getting those databases to "talk" to each other can be a large, and expensive, undertaking, yet in a complex hospital system, all the databases need to be involved for good patient and employee care.