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Tiers and data marts

Which approach is the most preferred and why in terms of design and implementation issues raised: designing a data warehouse and splitting it into data marts or integrating data marts built separately into a data warehouse? In the first case, do we have to split the fact table and the dimensions of the data warehouse into multiple facts and dimensions and vice versa in the second scenario?

The data warehouse needs to be viewed as an environment that MUST support three primary roles:

  1. Data Acquisition or Collection. This is the intake role. Taking data from the operational support systems and placing it into the data warehouse environment.

  2. Data Distribution. This is the role of making the data available for distribution to the end-user

  3. Data Access. This is the role of providing easy/optimized access to information.

The three roles MUST be supported by a data architecture that is comprised of two or three physical tiers.

  1. Staging Area. The TDWI defines the Staging Area as "any data store designed primarily to receive data into a warehousing environment. It is persistent, atomic, subject-oriented, integrated, adaptable and extensible."

  2. Data Warehouse. TDWI defines the Data Warehouse as "a data structure that is optimized for distribution. It collects & stores integrated sets of historical data from staging and provides end-user access or feeds data marts."

  3. Data Marts. TDWI defines the Data Mart as "a data structure that is optimized for access. It is designed to facilitate end-user analysis of data. It typically supports a single analytic application for a distinct set of consumers."

Configure your data warehouse environment as a two-tier or three-tier architecture. Just make sure all three roles are addressed. The three tier configuration consists of the staging area, the data warehouse and data marts. The two-tier configuration will consist of the Staging Area and EITHER the Data Warehouse or Data Marts. NEVER build independent data marts, you are only deferring the integration work. Always build the staging area, this is your vehicle to making the data warehouse environment positioned for the future. There are many pros and cons to which configuration you choose depending on your organizations needs and resource constraints, but due to space limitations, we'll need to save this for another question.

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This was last published in November 2001

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