By far the most common use for computers during most of their existence has been to create and store databases. From large databases that manage a bank's account information to the common e-mail program, databases are the engines behind most of the software in use today. In simple terms, a database is computer software that contains organized data. The data are structured to allow a user to search for specific data, reorder the data, and create reports containing specified parts of the data. For the epidemiologist, a relational database can provide a tool to manage and maintain large data sets, create reports, and prepare basic statistical analyses.

In the earliest mainframe computers, databases were complex to create and maintain and remained the province of trained ...

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