I've recently joined an organisation where we use ArcGIS to do a lot of non-spatial analysis on a spatial dataset. Our main dataset is an environmental polygon survey with lots of attributes (in an ESRI file geodatabase), and I'm frequently asked to conduct analyses such as: - Calculate the summed area of all polygons which meet certain queries (specified by a Where clause across several fields, for example)

My problem is that I don't know very much at all about traditional database development, but it strikes me that all I'm doing is querying the database (across multiple fields) and then summarizing the results. I've been doing this is in ArcGIS and Python using tools search as Summary Statistics or objects such as searchcursors to scroll through my layers, select records and sum them.

But I imagine non-spatial databases must be a lot faster. But which one? Please tell me what platform I should use to conduct routine summaries on a 500k records sized database. MS Access? Excel and pivot tables? SQL? I don't know where to start, but have a feeling that doing this in ArcGIS (v 10, not 10.1) isn't the best way.

I'm not looking for long answers, just a short shove in the right direction to fill in my lack of knowledge about databases in general.

2 Answers 2


I would suggest something like PostGreSQL with PostGIS.

The benefit of this is that you can store your entire data (including the geometries). You can then use SQL to query either just the non spatial Attributes, or you could also include the Geometry if required.

Besides PostGreSQL, I have also stored data in Oracle Spatial, but there is just too much overhead, and the spatial part just doesn't feel first rate. MS SQL is also an option, but I don't have too much experience with it.

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    Microsoft SQL Server is what our organization is using, but it is 'big' and 'expensive'...but it will get the job done that you're trying to accomplish. But i'd agree that PostgreSQL / PostGIS is your best bet, as it is not only the 'world's most advanced database', but it is free, light-weight, and super easy to use! Aug 8, 2013 at 16:51
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    In 10.0, I'm pretty sure that you won't be able to use PostGIS geometry WITHOUT purchasing ArcSDE. However at 10.1 and above, you can connect to the PostGIS geometry natively without having to purchase ArcSDE. See PostgreSQL data types supported in ArcGIS in the online help. It is important to point out though that in this scenario, you cannot get all of the benefits of as GDB (ie- Topology, Domains, Relationship classes, etc) without ArcSDE. Aug 8, 2013 at 20:43

ArcGIS 10 should include an optional install for personal SDE, at least with the editor, or info level license. This is MS SQL Express. With that you have SQL and GIS--the best of both worlds. MS SQL Express is free and you can use SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) for regular database stuff (queries, etc) and do spatial queries/functions too. and here's a bonus... ArcGIS can see SQL spatial columns and do spatial queries too. And you can grow into using report builder to provide regular output to users, by the way that's free too. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=30438 http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=6116

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