Is a Centralized Database Right for You?

Is your GIS starting to look like your office junk drawer? Stray databases and shapefiles everywhere but not quite sure how to get things organized? Centralized databases might be just the thing to get you back on track.

When talking about a centralized database we can look at it two ways, centralizing data for a single user or centralizing data for multiple users.

Single User

Looking at data that only you use, a centralized database allows you to decrease clutter and keep things in one location. Multiple databases, or even shapefiles, can be difficult to navigate when trying to accomplish tasks efficiently. If someone else has to use your system, they may have trouble orienting themselves.

Try using one database (or a handful) to centralize your data. Put all your data or similar data in one place. Utilize datasets to help keep things organized within the database instead of multiple databases.

Multiple Users

For multiple users, you can use an enterprise geodatabase to utilize the capabilities of a centralized database. Enterprise geodatabases allow for multiple users to concurrently connect and work with the stored data in a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) such as: SQL Server, Oracle, or Postgres

You can also set up replication and deploy services to allow for editing in multiple places. Have replicas syncing to the central database or connect to a service from ArcGIS Online or Enterprise. This allows you to get your data into the hands of those that need to work with it without needing to constantly reconcile changes.

Common replication practice is to have a centralized location where data is collected. Organizations set up in this manner have a central geodatabase that houses a collection of data from other offices.
Centralizing data from many sources (Image Source: Esri).

Benefits of Centralized Databases

Data integrity is easy to enforce, as everyone is working with the same data and rules. You’ll only have to clean up data in one location. No more time spent sending out new copies of data or figuring out if everyone has an up to date copy.

Easy to learn, as you only have one system to understand. This makes it easier for training across departments, as everyone works with the same data.

Securing your data in one place is easier to do than when it is spread out in many locations. With a centralized database you can enact stronger security methods and monitor it more efficiently.


There is no one-size fits all answer when it comes to databases. You may need to experiment with the configuration to see if one database works for you or if a small number will work better. The main takeaway should be that creating an organized system will make it easier to work with.  

A single point of possible failure will make anybody managing data nervous. While this is a concern with centralized databases, this is why we create backups, have restore plans, and practice the plan before having to enact it.

Even more tips from GEO Jobe:

Solution Engineer

Michelle is a passionate and self-starting GIS professional looking to change the world with mapping. She works with our Enterprise team, supporting the daily operations of our GEOPowered Cloud.