The traditional use of a data warehouse has been to store historical data. Stored at both the detailed level and the summary level, data warehouses provide a description of what has happened in the past. Historical data may be used to look at the forest and the trees, look at customer trends and provide a basis for asking "what if" questions, among other things.

Data warehouses are unique in that they recognize that data is captured and stored over a panorama of time. Contrast a data warehouse's recognition of the element of time with that of OLTP (transaction-based) systems. In OLTP transaction-based systems, the only time that matters is right now. In transaction-based systems you ask such questions as:

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