Portable databases for MVP!: Page 3

Posted September 19, 2000

Neil Plotnick

(Page 3 of 3)

fresh ground software VP Scott Herring

To overcome these barriers, fresh ground hit on the idea of using a mobile database, in particular, Cloudscape, an all-Java mobile database from the Oakland, Calif.-based Cloudscape division of Informix Corp., of Menlo Park, Calif. With Cloudscape, fresh ground software was able to port all of the data from its existing Web site to a CD-ROM in just a few days. The CD-ROM, called the MusicSource Desktop, delivers both the Cloudscape Java database engine and the data files to fresh ground's clients.

The multiplatform capabilities of the Java database enable MusicSource Desktop to run on any platform with a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), distributed with the database application. Herring calls it a "standard off-the-shelf JVM." Using Java technology also greatly simplifies the need to keep the database of music clips current. "The application will automatically search for [updates to the database] when launched if a connection to the Internet exists," Herring says.

Push-pull capabilities enhance database use

For other companies, it's not so much the mobility of the database that is important, but the technology used to implement it that has proved critical. Edgilent Corp., in Rolling Meadows, Ill., calls itself a commerce service provider, a category of application service provider (ASP). The company hosts online catalog and inventory management systems for small- and medium-sized manufacturers and distributors that want to be active in business-to-business (B2B) online procurement activities, but can't afford the investment required to install and maintain such e-commerce systems on their own.

At the core of Edgilent's service is the eCatalog Suite, Service Provider Edition, a database and catalog management system from Poet Software Inc., of San Mateo, Calif. The Poet system provides for database file extraction, manipulation, and reformatting for various PDAs.

Raj Ponnuswamy, president, Edgilent Corp.

The Poet database gives Edgilent's customers both push and pull capabilities. Edgilent customers maintain their own catalog and inventory systems in a broad range of formats on their own networks. The Poet database extracts information from these various file and data types and places it on Edgilent's Dell Computer NT servers. Once the data is captured, the customer can manipulate it by adding or modifying fields or performing other tasks. Edgilent customer databases are imported into the Poet system. The Poet product then can export this captured data in a variety of formats appropriate for Edgilent's customers' own clients' needs. For example, Poet can export in HTML or XML or send text e-mail attachments. Clients can also pull data directly from the Poet servers.

Lessons learned about mobile databases

  • For better performance and to support more richness of data, a local database is the way to go.

  • When managing data is the priority, a thin-client architecture that allows browser-based views into the data on a remote database would be preferred.

  • Wireless devices may not always be able to establish and maintain a connection, which should be a consideration when choosing which architecture is best for your application.

  • Reconciling changes of multiple local databases to a central database can be a major challenge. Rules to arbitrate updates to central databases when multiple devices connect should be carefully established.

  • According to Edgilent president Raj Ponnuswamy the real power of the Poet eCatalog Suite is in the exportation of the data, facilitated by the database's integral support of multiple versions of eXtensible Markup Language. XML enables the database to perform data interchange among all the various systems and formats, while presenting the data in standard HTML so it can be viewed by almost any device with a compatible browser.

    Connection is key

    Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst with The Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston, says he believes the two different approaches to mobile database technology will continue. Consistency of coverage in North America is a bigger problem than available bandwidth, O'Kelly says, while Europe has better options for always-connected devices.

    "You always want the option of supporting an occasionally disconnected device," he adds. "Even in the best of circumstances, you are not always guaranteed a connection. For example, you may be aboard an airplane and not want to conflict with the aircraft electronics."

    Whatever the architecture, mobile databases are likely to continue to evolve and change rapidly in the near future. The potential of wireless mobile devices and their increasing adoption by corporations and individuals points out just how important mobile databases are becoming.

    Whatever the architecture, mobile databases are likely to continue to evolve and change rapidly in the near future. The potential of wireless mobile devices and their high rate of adoption among corporations and individuals indicate just how important mobile databases are becoming. //

    Neil Plotnick is the author of The IT Professional's Guide to Managing Systems, Vendors and End-Users. He has supported a variety of computer systems in various industries for more than 15 years. He can be reached at Neil@NeilPlotnick.com.

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