Data Warehousing

A data warehouse or enterprise data warehouse (DW, DWH, or EDW) is a database used for reporting and data analysis. It is a central repository of data which is created by integrating data from multiple disparate sources. Data warehouses store current as well as historical data and are used for creating trending reports for senior management reporting such as annual and quarterly comparisons.

The data stored in the warehouse are uploaded from the operational systems (such as marketing, sales etc., shown in the figure to the right). The data may pass through an operational data store for additional operations before they are used in the DW for reporting.

The typical ETL-based data warehouse uses staging, integration, and access layers to house its key functions. The staging layer or staging database stores raw data extracted from each of the disparate source data systems. The integration layer integrates the disparate data sets by transforming the data from the staging layer often storing this transformed data in an operational data store (ODS) database. The integrated data are then moved to yet another database, often called the data warehouse database, where the data is arranged into hierarchical groups often called dimensions and into facts and aggregate facts. The combination of facts and dimensions is sometimes called a star schema. The access layer helps users retrieve data.

A data warehouse constructed from an integrated data source systems does not require ETL, staging databases, or operational data store databases. The integrated data source systems may be considered to be a part of a distributed operational data store layer. Data federation methods or data virtualization methods may be used to access the distributed integrated source data systems to consolidate and aggregate data directly into the data warehouse database tables. Unlike the ETL-based data warehouse, the integrated source data systems and the data warehouse are all integrated since there is no transformation of dimensional or reference data. This integrated data warehouse architecture supports the drill down from the aggregate data of the data warehouse to the transactional data of the integrated source data systems.

Data warehouses can be subdivided into data marts. Data marts store subsets of data from a warehouse.

This definition of the data warehouse focuses on data storage. The main source of the data is cleaned, transformed, cataloged and made available for use by managers and other business professionals for data mining, online analytical processing, market research and decision support (Marakas & O'Brien 2009). However, the means to retrieve and analyze data, to extract, transform and load data, and to manage the data dictionary are also considered essential components of a data warehousing system. Many references to data warehousing use this broader context. Thus, an expanded definition for data warehousing includes business intelligence tools, tools to extract, transform and load data into the repository, and tools to manage and retrieve metadata.

Benefits of a data warehouse

A data warehouse maintains a copy of information from the source transaction systems. This architectural complexity provides the opportunity to:

  • Maintain data history, even if the source transaction systems do not.
  • Integrate data from multiple source systems, enabling a central view across the enterprise. This benefit is always valuable, but particularly so when the organization has grown by merger.
  • Improve data quality, by providing consistent codes and descriptions, flagging or even fixing bad data.
  • Present the organization's information consistently.
  • Provide a single common data model for all data of interest regardless of the data's source.
  • Restructure the data so that it makes sense to the business users.
  • Restructure the data so that it delivers excellent query performance, even for complex analytic queries, without impacting the operational systems.
  • Add value to operational business applications, notably customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

A Generic Data Warehouse Environment

The environment for data warehouses and marts includes the following:

  • Source systems that provide data to the warehouse or mart;
  • Data integration technology and processes that are needed to prepare the data for use;
  • Different architectures for storing data in an organization's data warehouse or data marts;
  • Different tools and applications for the variety of users;
  • Metadata, data quality, and governance processes must be in place to ensure that the warehouse or mart meets its purposes.

In regards to source systems listed above, Rainer states, “A common source for the data in data warehouses is the company’s operational databases, which can be relational databases” (130).

Regarding data integration, Rainer states, “It is necessary to extract data from source systems, transform them, and load them into a data mart or warehouse” (131).

Rainer discusses storing data in an organization’s data warehouse or data marts. “There are a variety of possible architectures to store decision-support data” (131).

Metadata are data about data. “IT personnel need information about datasources; database, table, and column names; refresh schedules; and data usage measures (133).

Today, the most successful companies are those that can respond quickly and flexibly to market changes and opportunities. A key to this response is the effective and efficient use of data and information by analysts and managers (Rainer, 127). A “data warehouse” is a repository of historical data that are organized by subject to support decision makers in the organization (128). Once data are stored in a data mart or warehouse, they can be accessed.


A data warehouse is a relational database that is designed for query and analysis rather than for transaction processing. It usually contains historical data derived from transaction data, but it can include data from other sources. It separates analysis workload from transaction workload and enables an organization to consolidate data from several sources.

In addition to a relational database, a data warehouse environment includes an extraction, transportation, transformation, and loading (ETL) solution, an online analytical processing (OLAP) engine, client analysis tools, and other applications that manage the process of gathering data and delivering it to business users.

A common way of introducing data warehousing is to refer to the characteristics of a data warehouse as set forth by William Inmon:

Subject Oriented

Data warehouses are designed to help you analyze data. For example, to learn more about your company's sales data, you can build a warehouse that concentrates on sales. Using this warehouse, you can answer questions like "Who was our best customer for this item last year?" This ability to define a data warehouse by subject matter, sales in this case, makes the data warehouse subject oriented.


Integration is closely related to subject orientation. Data warehouses must put data from disparate sources into a consistent format. They must resolve such problems as naming conflicts and inconsistencies among units of measure. When they achieve this, they are said to be integrated.


Nonvolatile means that, once entered into the warehouse, data should not change. This is logical because the purpose of a warehouse is to enable you to analyze what has occurred.

Time Variant

In order to discover trends in business, analysts need large amounts of data. This is very much in contrast to online transaction processing (OLTP) systems, where performance requirements demand that historical data be moved to an archive. A data warehouse's focus on change over time is what is meant by the term time variant.

Contrasting OLTP and Data Warehousing Environments

Figure 1-1 illustrates key differences between an OLTP system and a data warehouse.

Figure 1-1 Contrasting OLTP and Data Warehousing Environments

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One major difference between the types of system is that data warehouses are not usually in third normal form (3NF), a type of data normalization common in OLTP environments.

Data warehouses and OLTP systems have very different requirements. Here are some examples of differences between typical data warehouses and OLTP systems:

  • Workload

    Data warehouses are designed to accommodate ad hoc queries. You might not know the workload of your data warehouse in advance, so a data warehouse should be optimized to perform well for a wide variety of possible query operations.

    OLTP systems support only predefined operations. Your applications might be specifically tuned or designed to support only these operations.

  • Data modifications

    A data warehouse is updated on a regular basis by the ETL process (run nightly or weekly) using bulk data modification techniques. The end users of a data warehouse do not directly update the data warehouse.

    In OLTP systems, end users routinely issue individual data modification statements to the database. The OLTP database is always up to date, and reflects the current state of each business transaction.

  • Schema design

    Data warehouses often use denormalized or partially denormalized schemas (such as a star schema) to optimize query performance.

    OLTP systems often use fully normalized schemas to optimize update/insert/delete performance, and to guarantee data consistency.

  • Typical operations

    A typical data warehouse query scans thousands or millions of rows. For example, "Find the total sales for all customers last month."

    A typical OLTP operation accesses only a handful of records. For example, "Retrieve the current order for this customer."

  • Historical data

    Data warehouses usually store many months or years of data. This is to support historical analysis.

    OLTP systems usually store data from only a few weeks or months. The OLTP system stores only historical data as needed to successfully meet the requirements of the current transaction.

Data Warehouse Architectures

Data warehouses and their architectures vary depending upon the specifics of an organization's situation. Three common architectures are:

Data Warehouse Architecture (Basic)

Figure 1-2 shows a simple architecture for a data warehouse. End users directly access data derived from several source systems through the data warehouse.

Figure 1-2 Architecture of a Data Warehouse

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In Figure 1-2, the metadata and raw data of a traditional OLTP system is present, as is an additional type of data, summary data. Summaries are very valuable in data warehouses because they pre-compute long operations in advance. For example, a typical data warehouse query is to retrieve something like August sales. A summary in Oracle is called a materialized view.

Data Warehouse Architecture (with a Staging Area)

In Figure 1-2, you need to clean and process your operational data before putting it into the warehouse. You can do this programmatically, although most data warehouses use a staging area instead. A staging area simplifies building summaries and general warehouse management. Figure 1-3 illustrates this typical architecture.

Figure 1-3 Architecture of a Data Warehouse with a Staging Area

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Data Warehouse Architecture (with a Staging Area and Data Marts)

Although the architecture in Figure 1-3 is quite common, you may want to customize your warehouse's architecture for different groups within your organization. You can do this by adding data marts, which are systems designed for a particular line of business. Figure 1-4 illustrates an example where purchasing, sales, and inventories are separated. In this example, a financial analyst might want to analyze historical data for purchases and sales.

Figure 1-4 Architecture of a Data Warehouse with a Staging Area and Data Marts

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