Product Review: IBM's DB2 powers up PDAs

In a time of omnipresent computing power, the importance of IBM's release last month of DB2 Everywhere 1.1 (DB2E) for personal digital assistants (PDAs) is understood by IT managers and end users alike.

Available immediately as a free download from IBM's Web site, DB2E's first-ever release supports 3Com's PalmOS 3.0 and 3.1 and Microsoft Windows CE 2.0.

All the big database vendors, such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Sybase, have released or announced versions of their enterprise-class databases for portable devices in order to give customers similar database functionality over three layers: enterprise servers, desktops, and laptops or handheld units. But with DB2E, IBM has taken a slightly different tack, introducing an entirely separate, small-footprint relational database expressly designed for PDAs and handheld personal computers.

Although this strategy has allowed the product's engineers to pack a lot of functionality into a small space, it also means that in order to administer the product and synchronise data with other enterprise applications, you will need to purchase at least one licence for IBM's Mobile Connect, priced at $US4500 plus $150 per client. You should be able to recoup this cost, however, through added productivity.

You should consider Mobile Connect a natural complement to DB2E, because it offers ODBC connectivity to any relational database and easy, built-in synchronisation with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange servers. Furthermore, Mobile Connect provides the tool to simplify the deployment of applications for mobile devices.

In competing lightweight databases -- for example, Oracle Lite -- synchronisation tools are included in the package. With its SQL Anywhere Studio Ultralite technology, Sybase deploys only selected database and application features. These reflect not just different packaging, but divergent strategies.

In addition to the PalmOS and WinCE, IBM also announced its intention to eventually support the Epoch-32 OS from Psion, which would make the database available on Psion machines and most cellular phones. This decision comes despite an alliance between Microsoft and Qualcomm to promote WinCE as the OS of choice for cellular telephones. (See related article, www.infoworld.com/printlinks.)I installed DB2E on a Windows NT Server 4.0, which connected via serial ports to a 3Com Palm III and to an IBM WorkPad running WinCE. In addition to a serial cable, you can use dial-up or infrared connections.

The WinCE version of DB2E supports MIPS, SH3, and SA1100 CPUs, which should cover most of the devices available for that market. If you are unsure whether your WinCE machine is supported, you can visit www.software.ibm.com/data/db2/everywhere/prereqs.html for clarification.

I installed DB2E and Mobile Connect 2.2 without any problem. The only information you have to provide the install routine is the directory where you want the product installed and whether your machine is a PalmOS or WinCE device.

In minutes, I was able to connect from the WorkPad and complete the client installation for Mobile Connect. During this step I was required to type the IP address of the server machine, a task that should probably be eliminated, considering the broad user base that handheld devices attract.

DB2E comes with some sample applications and Query By Example (QBE), an application that you can use to query or modify database tables. It was an amazing experience to insert or delete rows and modify field content using QBE on the Palm's small screen. By changing the preference setting of QBE, I was able to type SQL statements and query the local database directly. This feature can be useful to developers for testing their own database-driven applications.

Still, QBE cannot rival the functionality of applications built using Microsoft Visual C++ for WinCE or Metrowerks CodeWarrior for PalmOS, both of which are currently available. QBE is a rudimentary tool, and you should limit its use to simple information display or testing of applications.

Thanks to its small footprint -- about 100KB -- and its integration with Mobile Connect, DB2 Everywhere makes possible database applications that extend the reach of your database server to the road or the warehouse. If your organisation is ready to deploy and support applications on PDAs, DB2E and Mobile Connect should provide a powerful combination at a reasonable cost.

Technology Analyst Mario Apicella (mario_apicella@infoworld.com) is a former programmer and database administratorTHE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODDB2 Everywhere 1.1Summary: IBM DB2 Everywhere brings database capabilities to handheld devices, thereby delivering computing power to the decentralised areas of your company that are beyond the reach of desktops and laptops.

Business Case: Licences for three servers and 100 clients would increase your annual budget by less than $US170 per user over three years. Although hardware and training will add to the cost, it should be easily repaid by increased productivity and improved data accuracy.

Pros

+ Small footprint

+ Powerful synchronisation of data and applications via Mobile Connect+ Standard database APIsCons- Installation requires some technical know-howCost: Free from the IBM Web site; a single-server licence of Mobile Connect is priced at $US4500, plus $150 per client; volume discounts for more than 100 clientsPlatforms: Microsoft Windows CE 2.0 and 3Com PalmOS 3.0, 3.1

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about 3Com AustraliaEpochIBM AustraliaMetrowerksMicrosoftOraclePsionQBEQualcommSybase Australia

Show Comments

Market Place