Welcome to the world of Excel-SQL connections. But where do you start? Let’s find out.
Before we start, if you’re familiar with databases and spreadsheets, you might want to skip a few sections.
What are the benefits of connecting Excel to SQL Server?
Before we get into that, you might be wondering why you bother trying to connect an Excel spreadsheet to a SQL database.
Well, you can take advantage of the database’s better way of handling data and combine it with Excel’s easier way of customizing, analyzing, formatting, and displaying data.
In other words, you get the best of both worlds.
As we’ve written before, spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel are excellent software for data wrangling and basic analysis. But as you’re about to discover, it’s not as powerful as a database like SQL Server in many ways.
We’ll briefly cover the main points below.
1. Data volume and data type processing are far superior to databases
One of the main advantages of a database is the sheer volume of data it can handle. If you have large data sets, spreadsheets can struggle to handle it, and sharing such data is far from convenient when workbooks bloat it to megabytes.
Since databases are far superior at storing information and can handle huge amounts of information, they can reach scales that spreadsheets cannot handle. Spreadsheets also tend to have limitations on the number of records they can keep, but databases do not.
For information, according to Microsoft, Excel has an upper limit of approximately 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns. Not only can the database go beyond that, but it can be accessed multiple times with little to no performance degradation.
While it’s a bit hard to quantify in terms of rows (ie records), a typical SQL server can handle up to 2,147,483,647 objects of various kinds (tables, queries, all data from all forms, etc.). For most applications, this is practically unlimited.
However, it really depends on the type of data you’re storing. In other words, if your fields contain a lot of text or often have images embedded in the records, this will drastically reduce the total amount of records the database can handle.
Unlike databases, spreadsheets take up more space on your hard drive to store data. Spreadsheets can also be difficult to read when they contain large amounts of data or a large number of fields (thousands of rows). While filters and custom views can help, they are cumbersome compared to the query capabilities of relational databases.
Databases can also handle documents and other types of data that spreadsheets might not be able to handle.
2. It is more efficient to use the database to edit data
Another major advantage of databases over spreadsheets is the data editing capabilities that databases can provide. This is especially true if the same or related information is kept in multiple records or spreadsheets.
A key example is a dataset that requires you to select data from a list. In a spreadsheet, this often needs to be stored in a separate sheet to provide a source for cell lookups. In a relational database, on the other hand, a separate worksheet can become its own table, linked to that field on the main table that collects the data.
You can easily add and delete rows from such a table, and the rest of the database can be updated automatically. Data can also be modified in conjunction with the database using relatively simple “update” queries.
3. Database user access and security make spreadsheets a big deal
Another major advantage of databases over spreadsheets is the ability for multiple users to simultaneously access or add new data sets. While this is almost possible with shared spreadsheets, the process is more clunky.
In fact, according to Microsoft, a single SQL Server can handle as many as 32,767 simultaneous user connections!
So when you want to share information and let your team collaborate, a database is the best choice. Since more than one person can access and update the database at the same time, it is more efficient and less likely to cause errors.
4. The data integrity of the database is better
The main difference between a database and a spreadsheet is how the data is kept secure. Relational databases use standard rules to ensure that the data they store is correct and easy to find. Database fields can often only accept certain data types, formats, or lengths.
For example, a free text field can be set to accept a specific maximum number of characters, or a numeric field can only accept values in a specific format.