iAnywhere revamps mobile database

iAnywhere Solutions Inc. has launched a new version of its flagship mobile database, SQL Anywhere Studio 8, designed to better serve companies that work with large databases that are accessed by a high number of users.

The Sybase Inc. subsidiary offers its "lightweight" database for use by workers who access corporate data from laptops, handheld computers and other gadgets while in the field. The product, which can also be used with databases from other vendors besides Sybase, led the mobile database market in terms of market share last year but faces increased competition from Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and others.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the start of Oracle Corp.'s weeklong OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, which opens Sunday evening.

Among the improvements to the new version is the ability to handle larger databases, more complex queries and a larger number of users, according to director of engineering Chris Kleisath. This was achieved in part by making physical store changes and improving the database's "optimizer" software, which looks at the data being accessed and the type of device requesting it, and figures out the most efficient way of delivering the data to that device.

The company also improved the software's indexing capabilities and added bitmap table page lists, which should allow for faster table scans, Kleisath said.

"That means we know which pages on a disk belong to any given table, so we can read several pages at once and know they're all from this table," he said. "Before, we had to read one page and follow the pointer at the end to find the next table. That enables us to read queries across larger databases much faster."

One customer who has been beta testing the upgrade since the middle of the year was impressed, saying Sybase worked closely with his company over the past six months to iron out bugs and find ways to make queries run faster.

"In the end, I think it came out pretty well," said Leo Tohill, product manager at the CBORD Group Inc., which develops computer systems for use by the food services industry, among others.

"Performance is always key to us, because we have very large and complex databases and very complex queries, and we are seeing some queries running several times faster," he said. "That means we can sell to a larger market, a market consisting of more users."

The company chose iAnywhere because it was the only product of its kind available at the time, he said. Since then, CBORD has found the product easy to deploy and has seen no reason to switch to another vendor, he said.

Security was beefed up in the new release by adding a feature that encrypts data as it's loaded into a database, Kleisath said. This is especially important for the finance and health industries, where Sybase does much of its business, but also addresses growing concerns about security among most companies, he said.

The previous version of the product used a lower-level encryption type that would stop "casual" attempts to read data but wouldn't keep out a serious hacker, he said. The new version uses the Advanced Encryption Standard, which has been picked by the U.S. government to replace the Data Encryption Standard.

The company also added priority synchronization, which means application developers can define subsets of data that get synchronized first when an employee is working in the field, with the goal of making better use of the limited bandwidth available from a wireless connection.

"I think they've enhanced it significantly with this release, especially when you look at the enterprise synchronization," said Stephen Drake, a program manager with research firm International Data Corp. of Framingham, Massachusetts. "It sounds basic, but it's something that shouldn't be overlooked in an enterprise mobilization deployment."

The product has been in development for two years, Kleisath said. Limited beta tests began about a year ago, and in August a final test was launched with about 300 users. Pricing remains the same as for the previous version, Kleisath said: US$399 for a single-user license, or $999 for 10 users.

The English-language version will ship to manufacturers Monday and be generally available within a week, he said. Localized versions in French and German are due in the first quarter next year, with a Japanese version slated for the following quarter. The company is evaluating the idea of a localized version for Chinese markets but doesn't have a release date in mind.

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