What Is an RDBMS? (With Benefits and Challenges)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many organizations manage and store various-sized data sets. To manage data efficiently, companies sometimes rely on a relational database management system (RDBMS) to store the different data they use during business operations. By answering the question "What is an RDBMS?" you can have the tools to compile and organize the different data sets you work with to easily access and understand them in the future. In this article, we explore what an RDBMS is, learn its defining characteristics, identify differences with a non-relational database, and discuss the benefits and challenges of using an RDBMS.

What is an RDBMS?

If you work with large and complex data sets, you may be wondering how you can efficiently manipulate and organize them by asking the question, "What is an RDBMS?" An RDBMS, also known as a relational database management system, is a database of items that stores data based on how the items relate to one another in the system. IT professionals and other teams use RDBMS software to query, analyze, and retrieve information easily from anywhere within the relational database. It typically makes storing and manipulating data for operational purposes simpler than relying on disorganized data sets.

RDBMS programs typically store data in the form of rows in a table in which you can find the specific information you want. For example, a merchandising company might have a data table that displays product information, price, and customer orders. You can easily access information from individual blocks in the table, such as a specific customer or an order number. RDBMS programs are one of the most popular database systems that large and small organizations use for storing and organizing information. Many computers and mobile devices rely on such systems.

Related: What Is a Database Server? (Tips, FAQ, and Examples)

Characteristics of an RDBMS

RDBMS programs have many characteristics that make them effective and easy systems to use for managing and storing large, complex sets of data. Here are some of their defining characteristics:

Format of the system

An RDBMS organizes data items and data sets into rows and columns in a table. Each column corresponds to a category, and the rows identify each data item in the set. It organizes information in a way that users can easily identify how the data items in the table relate to each other. Having a structured format makes it easier for users to understand, run queries, and isolate information in the overall complex data set. You can also easily manipulate the data in the rows and columns using various commands to transform the data into usable information for other computer systems.

Relationship between data items

An RDBMS organizes data items in a table according to each item's relationship with the other items. The data set has various characteristics and traits that help users identify the organization of the data items within the RDBMS. For example, a table that displays customer order information might have all product orders in a column and customer names in another column. In an RDBMS, you can use the relationship between each data item to navigate and isolate specific items in your database, even if they are in a different table.

Related: Differences Between Structured vs. Unstructured Data


Relational databases show consistency throughout each transaction completed in the RDBMS. Consistency means that the rules and defining characteristics within the relational database remain the same throughout all the data points and after each transaction or query. It's also beneficial for users to work with consistent data across the relational database because the information updates across all the applications and programs. This means that users have access to the same data sets regardless of the commands or queries they run.

Relational databases vs. non-relational databases

A non-relational database stores and retrieves displayed and organized data, which may have no relation to each other, outside of a table format. A document is an example of a non-relational database structure. This document can store and organize complex data items in several formats. For example, a retail store might store customer names, addresses, credit card information, purchase orders, and e-mail addresses in a document. While these data types have different formats, a non-relational database makes it possible for users to store, organize, and retrieve these data items in a single document.

It's sometimes faster to perform queries with a non-relational database than with a relational database because the system only uses the same document to deliver an answer. Users sometimes prefer using a non-relational database to store and organize information that constantly changes because you can be more flexible with the types of data you include in the database.

Related: What Is Data Modelling? Definition and Different Types

Benefits and challenges of using an RDBMS

There are both benefits and challenges that organizations can consider when thinking about using an RDBMS, which include:

Benefits of an RDBMS

Here are some of the benefits of using an RDBMS:

  • Flexibility: An RDBMS is flexible in allowing users to change or store data in the database. This is helpful when users want to update the information in the stored data set.

  • Simplicity: Relational databases are one of the simplest models to store and retrieve large data items in an organized way. As a result, IT teams and users don't worry about setting up complex queries to retrieve specific items in the database.

  • Easy accessibility: Relational databases allow users to find information within any table in the database easily. Users can also create custom scripts or conditional statements to combine data items in the related tables to retrieve any required data they need for a query.

  • Better security: Since users can create several tables in a relational database to store related data items, they can mark certain tables as confidential or restricted access. This ensures only relevant users have access to certain information that is confidential or restricted, which helps improve overall security within the database.

  • Improved data integrity: Relational databases rely on integrity to ensure that all data items can conform to the arrangements necessary to identify and organize the data according to its relationship with one another. This helps ensure that all the data items belong within the database and are easily accessible, accurate, and stable.

Challenges of an RDBMS

Here are some of the challenges of using an RDBMS:

  • Scalability: Relational databases often exist on one server, making it challenging for organizations to scale them based on the growing size of the database and the complexity of data items. It's possible to mitigate this challenge by using more advanced hardware with higher capabilities that can handle larger databases.

  • Performance: A relational database may experience reduced performance when organizing and querying through large databases with many complex items. Users might choose to use multiple databases instead to store and organize specific types of information.

  • Cost: Setting up an RDBMS can be expensive because you require specific software to operate the relational database. Some organizations might choose to hire a professional technician or an entire team of professionals to set up and regularly maintain the system.

  • Physical storage: Relational databases require a lot of physical memory since there might be many rows and columns in each table. Each table and query depends on a separate storage space to store, organize, and retrieve the information in the proper format within the RDBMS.

  • Data limitations: Unlike a non-relational management database, the relational database stores and organizes types of information that relate to each other. It restricts the type of information users can store in the relational database and makes it more challenging to organize complex data sets that contain different information.

  • Complexity: When the relational database contains too many rows and columns of data items, the table can be more complex. It can make it more of a challenge for the user to retrieve specific information since there is too much information.

Explore more articles