A great deal of the world's business information isn't stored in Excel or Word files. Instead, it sits inside databases. Databases provide the best way to store massive amounts of data, like a product catalog for an online store or a customer list for a mail order company. Databases break this data into separate tables and let you search it with unrivaled flexibility. Databases are particularly adept at answering questions like "what products did this customer order last week?" and "how many employees have completed sensitivity training?"
There are two basic types of databases in the world:
End-user databases are designed for small-scale or single-person use. They store data and provide people-friendly tools for searching and managing the information they contain. The best-known end-user database is Microsoft Access, which is included in some versions of Office.
Server-side databases work on a larger scale by storing data and feeding it to other programs and Web sites. Ordinary mortals don't use server-side databases directly. Instead, they use applications that, in turn, rely on databases. For example, when you browse Amazon.com, the Amazon Web page code is hard at work getting product information and customer reviews from some of the most high-powered databases on the planet. One well-known server-side database is Microsoft SQL Server.
In Excel, it's just as easy to extract information from a small-scale database like Access as it is to get data from a full-fledged ...