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13 March 2023

history of data catalogs

A complete history of the data catalog

Today’s data catalog is an advanced tool for organizing and managing an organization’s data assets. This data governance tool typically includes various features and capabilities that help users locate and understand data. These tools include a search engine, metadata tags, data lineage tracking, and collaboration tools. It may also have other features, such as data governance tools and integrations with other data management systems.

While data catalogs have been around since the 1960s, those early systems are incomparable to the business intelligence tools they have become. However, the roots of this tool can be traced well before computers and digital data management.

Let’s examine the origins and history of data catalogs, from their humble beginnings in libraries to the sophisticated, cloud-based systems available today.

The first data catalog

The concept of a data catalog can be traced back to the card catalogs used to manage and identify books in a library. These early catalogs, some engraved in wood or printed on scrolls, progressed from handwritten to printed cards as the centuries unfolded.

Although old books and modern computers are almost incomparable, users’ needs are virtually identical. How can I find what I need when I need it with so much information – or books – in front of me?

Card catalogs made it easier for patrons to find exactly the book they were looking for, including where the book was located within the library’s stacks. Each book was categorized by title, author, subject, or, as we would call it now, each book’s metadata.

These card catalogs were challenging to maintain as every aspect of these catalogs was a manual process. However, despite their primitive nature, library card catalogs foreshadowed the role of data catalogs in modern data management.

Expanding roles: The data dictionary

Data dictionaries were created as part of the first database management systems (DBMSs) in the 1960s. The dictionaries were used to store metadata about the structure and contents of databases, including the names and descriptions of database tables and columns, as well as data types and other details about the structure of the data.

Data management professionals were typically the sole users of data dictionaries. They were not generally designed to be user-friendly and required a certain level of technical expertise to use and understand.

Data dictionaries also came to include a broader range of metadata as data management practices evolved. Today, data dictionaries store a wide range of metadata about data assets, including the name, description, data type, and location of each data asset. Data dictionaries may also be used to store data governance policies and procedures, as well as to track data lineage and monitor data usage.

Digital data catalogs

The rapid development of DBMS brought about the emergence of digital data catalogs. DBMSs are software programs that allow users to create and manage databases. Data catalogs were often included as part of DBMSs to help users locate and understand the data stored in the database.

Also contributing to the emergence of digital data catalogs was the increasing amount of data generated and stored by information-rich companies. As data volumes grew, it became increasingly important to have efficient and effective ways to organize and manage data. Digital catalogs solved this problem by allowing users to search and access data assets quickly.

The emergence of cloud-based data catalogs

In the 2000s, “big data” became popular as organizations began to collect and produce enormous amounts of data from various sources. The rise of big data presented new challenges and opportunities for data management, which fueled the need for more powerful and effective metadata and data catalogs.

A significant shift towards cloud-based data management solutions led to cloud-based catalog tools. Cloud-based solutions offered distinct advantages over on-premises solutions, including lower costs, greater scalability, and easier maintenance.

Cloud-based options s offer many of the same features as on-premises catalogs, including search functionality, metadata management, and data lineage tracking. However, the advantages continue beyond there.

Proprietary data catalog solutions in the cloud offer companies vastly enhanced user interfaces and experiences without adding responsibilities to their IT teams. By leveraging a vendor program, organizations benefit from a fully supported program without requiring additional employees or project start-up costs.

These largely automated systems are quickly employed and routinely updated to support even the most demanding data consumers.

Modern data catalogs

Today’s data catalogs can be deployed in one of three ways, each with different features and capabilities. These include:

  • On-premise data catalogs: These catalogs are installed and hosted on the organization’s servers or hardware. On-premises data catalogs are usually internally managed but require more upfront investment, dedicated personnel, and ongoing maintenance.
  • Cloud-based data catalogs: Cloud-based data catalogs offer many of the same features as on-premises data catalogs, including search functionality, metadata management, and data lineage tracking. One of the main advantages of cloud-based data catalogs is that they are easy to set up and maintain, with minimal upfront costs and hardware requirements.
  • Hybrid data catalogs: Hybrid data catalogs combine elements of cloud-based and on-premises catalogs. These catalogs may include a mix of cloud-based and on-premises components, depending on the specific needs and goals of the organization, and offer more direct control to the end user.

A continuing evolution

The history of data catalogs is one of constant evolution, as they have developed from humble beginnings as handwritten card catalogs for handmade books to being an essential tool for businesses today. The evolution of data catalogs has been driven by advancements in technology, and the current trend of leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence is expected to further transform them in the future.

The next generation of data catalogs is anticipated to revolutionize how businesses operate by making them more data-driven. With the ability to automatically curate and organize vast amounts of data from different sources, these catalogs will make it easier for businesses to identify trends, patterns, and insights that can inform their decision-making processes. This will be particularly valuable for companies looking to extract more value from their data and gain a competitive advantage in their respective markets.

Interested in learning even more about using your data as an asset? Speak with an expert and book a demo today to get started on your organization’s journey to complete data lifecycle management with DataGalaxy!

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