Database war stories: DB vs ‘square’ files

Plug and PlayI’ve been following the Database War Stories of O’Reilly Radar: how companies use text-based alternatives to classic relational database systems in order to cope with huge volumes. Check out the stories of Findory/Amazon, Google File System, Flickr and Second Life. Anyway, this seemed like a good moment to share some of my database war stories. Let me take you back to the early nineties.

1993 @ Ukkel
I arrive at Sopres, one of the larger direct marketing / database management companies in Belgium. Fresh from university (and 1 year of military service), I expect to see RDBMS everywhere and dive into SQL. Imagine my surprise when I see that, yes, there are a lot of Sybase SQLServer databases around, but the bulk of the work is done with something they call ‘square files’ (see below). They have built a whole set of tools to work with those and by using them myself, I learn to appreciate the advantanges of the system (speed, mainly) and grow a fairly accurate intuition for things like queries, indexes and outer joins.
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