Is it time to Switch from Excel to a Relational Database?

    Updated: Oct 3

    Your decision to switch is based on your business needs.




    Automating from Microsoft Excel to a relational database is not a rule of thumb but a decision that is business model driven. Understanding your business model and the objective that your company is trying to achieve needs to be established prior to making a decision. Both Excel and relational databases store data but how the data will be utilize is a key component in selecting the optimum solution for your company needs.

    “Understand your business model and the objective that your company is trying to achieve needs to be established prior to selecting Excel over a relational database.”

    In order to select between Microsoft Excel and a relational database, it is important to understand the difference between Excel and a relational database. A relational database is a set of formally described tables that stores data that have a relationship.


    The below image is an example of a relational database for a retail store. The database has three tables; Product, Customer, and Order. The data in each table is related; the Product table contains information about the product like product ID and product name, the Customer table contains information about a customer, like customer name and customer address, and the Order table contains information about orders like order ID and quantity. The relation among the three tables are as follows: a customer (Customer Table) wants a particular product (Product table), so the customer orders a certain amount of products (Order Table).



    When the company decides to produce an invoice, all the related information can be combined.


    Normalizing your data based on data entities {Customer, Product, Order} is not only easy to implement in SQL but the performance supersedes any relational data structure functionality that is implemented in Excel.


    Microsoft SQL Server is a relational database management system developed by Microsoft. It supports business intelligence and analytics applications, and a variety of transaction processing. The programming language used for this relational database is Structured Query Language (SQL).


    Microsoft Excel is also developed by Microsoft and its part of the Microsoft Office Suite. Excel is a spreadsheet and it features calculation, graphing tools, and pivot tables. The programming language used for Excel if Visual Basic for applications.

    Should You Switch?


    Excel can handle a large amount of data; over a million rows and over 16 thousand columns. However, how is the performance when you perform functions, pivot tables, or have data in multiple worksheets? Are you sharing workbooks among multiple users or do you have to email those files to multiple people? Do you have corruption issues with your file? Do other users enter numbers in field that should only be text? Are you date fields formatted correctly?


    If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time to switch.


    Microsoft SQL can handle 10 times the data that Excel can handle, and the performance is much faster. Instead of emailing a massive file, the data can be shared among several users and they can execute the same or separate analysis on the data at the same time. With SQL, there is no need to worry about file versioning, corrupt data, or integrity issues. SQL triumphs when it comes to integrity since unlike Excel, it maintains the data type of a field, so if the field is set for numbers, it will not allow text to be entered.


    If you have invested years in Excel and have complex functions, there is no need to have anxiety about the transition from Excel to SQL because SQL offers the same, if not better, functionality.



    If you want to try SQL out, you can download SQL express and try it out for free.

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