Distributed Database

distributed database is a collection of multiple interconnected databases, which are spread physically across various locations that communicate via a computer network.

  • Databases in the collection are logically interrelated with each other. Often they represent a single logical database.
  • Data is physically stored across multiple sites. Data in each site can be managed by a DBMS independent of the other sites.
  • The processors in the sites are connected via a network. They do not have any multiprocessor configuration.
  • A distributed database is not a loosely connected file system.
  • A distributed database incorporates transaction processing, but it is not synonymous with a transaction processing system.

Distributed Database Management System

A distributed database management system (DDBMS) is a centralized software system that manages a distributed database in a manner as if it were all stored in a single location.

  • It is used to create, retrieve, update and delete distributed databases.
  • It synchronizes the database periodically and provides access mechanisms by the virtue of which the distribution becomes transparent to the users.
  • It ensures that the data modified at any site is universally updated.
  • It is used in application areas where large volumes of data are processed and accessed by numerous users simultaneously.
  • It is designed for heterogeneous database platforms.
  • It maintains confidentiality and data integrity of the databases.

Factors Encouraging DDBMS

  • Distributed Nature of Organizational Units: Most organizations in the current times are subdivided into multiple units that are physically distributed over the globe. Each unit requires its own set of local data. Thus, the overall database of the organization becomes distributed.
  • Need for Sharing of Data: The multiple organizational units often need to communicate with each other and share their data and resources. This demands common databases or replicated databases that should be used in a synchronized manner.
  • Support for Both OLTP and OLAP: Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) and Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) work upon diversified systems which may have common data. Distributed database systems aid both these processing by providing synchronized data.
  • Database Recovery: One of the common techniques used in DDBMS is replication of data across different sites. Replication of data automatically helps in data recovery if database in any site is damaged. Users can access data from other sites while the damaged site is being reconstructed. Thus, database failure may become almost inconspicuous to users.
  • Support for Multiple Application Software: Most organizations use a variety of application software each with its specific database support. DDBMS provides a uniform functionality for using the same data among different platforms.

Advantages of Distributed Databases

Following are the advantages of distributed databases over centralized databases.

Modular Development: If the system needs to be expanded to new locations or new units, in centralized database systems, the action requires substantial efforts and disruption in the existing functioning. However, in distributed databases, the work simply requires adding new computers and local data to the new site and finally connecting them to the distributed system, with no interruption in current functions.

More Reliable: In case of database failures, the total system of centralized databases comes to a halt. However, in distributed systems, when a component fails, the functioning of the system continues may be at a reduced performance. Hence DDBMS is more reliable.

Better Response: If data is distributed in an efficient manner, then user requests can be met from local data itself, thus providing faster response. On the other hand, in centralized systems, all queries have to pass through the central computer for processing, which increases the response time.

Lower Communication Cost: In distributed database systems, if data is located locally where it is mostly used, then the communication costs for data manipulation can be minimized. This is not feasible in centralized systems.

Adversities of Distributed Databases

Following are some of the adversities associated with distributed databases.

  • Need for complex and expensive software: DDBMS demands complex and often expensive software to provide data transparency and co-ordination across the several sites.
  • Processing overhead: Even simple operations may require a large number of communications and additional calculations to provide uniformity in data across the sites.
  • Data integrity: The need for updating data in multiple sites pose problems of data integrity.
  • Overheads for improper data distribution: Responsiveness of queries is largely dependent upon proper data distribution. Improper data distribution often leads to very slow response to user requests.

A distributed system needs additional security measures than centralized system, since there are many users, diversified data, multiple sites and distributed control. In this chapter, we will look into the various facets of distributed database security.

In distributed communication systems, there are two types of intruders −

  • Passive eavesdroppers: They monitor the messages and get hold of private information.
  • Active attackers: They not only monitor the messages but also corrupt data by inserting new data or modifying existing data.

Security measures encompass security in communications, security in data and data auditing.

Communications Security

In a distributed database, a lot of data communication takes place owing to the diversified location of data, users and transactions. So, it demands secure communication between users and databases and between the different database environments.

Security in communication encompasses the following:

  • Data should not be corrupt during transfer.
  • The communication channel should be protected against both passive eavesdroppers and active attackers.
  • In order to achieve the above stated requirements, well-defined security algorithms and protocols should be adopted.

Two popular, consistent technologies for achieving end-to-end secure communications are:

  • Secure Socket Layer Protocol or Transport Layer Security Protocol.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

Data Security

In distributed systems, it is imperative to adopt measure to secure data apart from communications. The data security measures are:

  • Authentication and authorization: These are the access control measures adopted to ensure that only authentic users can use the database. To provide authentication digital certificates are used. Besides, login is restricted through username/password combination.
  • Data encryption: The two approaches for data encryption in distributed systems are:
    • Internal to distributed database approach: The user applications encrypt the data and then store the encrypted data in the database. For using the stored data, the applications fetch the encrypted data from the database and then decrypt it.
    • External to distributed database: The distributed database system has its own encryption capabilities. The user applications store data and retrieve them without realizing that the data is stored in an encrypted form in the database.
  • Validated input: In this security measure, the user application checks for each input before it can be used for updating the database. An un-validated input can cause a wide range of exploits like buffer overrun, command injection, cross-site scripting and corruption in data.

Data Auditing

A database security system needs to detect and monitor security violations, in order to ascertain the security measures it should adopt. It is often very difficult to detect breach of security at the time of occurrences. One method to identify security violations is to examine audit logs. Audit logs contain information such as:

  • Date, time and site of failed access attempts.
  • Details of successful access attempts.
  • Vital modifications in the database system.
  • Access of huge amounts of data, particularly from databases in multiple sites.

All the above information gives an insight of the activities in the database. A periodical analysis of the log helps to identify any unnatural activity along with its site and time of occurrence. This log is ideally stored in a separate server so that it is inaccessible to attackers.

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