Storing Easily Accessible Multimedia Files

Text-dominated corporate Web sites are becoming a thing of the past as Web pages become more diversely adorned with pictures, sounds, video clips, and other treats to stimulate your senses and entice customers to hit the purchase button.

But enriching your Web pages with these dandies creates the challenge of managing complicated multimedia files. Because your relational databases are accustomed to handling text data only, these files must be stored elsewhere, usually in your OS's file system.

Unfortunately, storing your multimedia files outside your database creates security and tracking problems that often translate into those business-crushing "file not found" messages on customer browsers.

To confront this challenge, IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. offer two different but equally successful database enhancement tools that will manage diverse file formats and keep your multimedia files accessible. Although built on two opposite philosophies (and around two different databases), both approaches make your non-textual data easier to store and manage.

Until now, the applications that open and read multimedia files could not access your database. In fact, most multimedia software can only create or read files using the OS API. To effectively manage multimedia files, databases need to be easily accessible by applications that are not database savvy and display files as conveniently as does your OS system.

That's where IBM's Data Links and Oracle's internet File System (iFS) enter the picture. Both products offer reader-friendly approaches to storing multimedia files under the protective cover of a database.

Although the two solutions provide similar benefits, their implementations are quite different. IBM's product leaves your multimedia files wherever they are -- typically in an OS-managed folder. It then maintains a table in the database that describes the object, its location, any security rules that apply to it, permissions, and automated backup.

To achieve database control over external files, Data Links adds local agents to the OS where the file resides. In essence, Data Links extends the security paradigm of DB2 to the operating system.

Oracle takes a completely different approach with iFS, a solution that simplifies the database API to the point of making it invisible. In fact, once you install the iFS extension to Oracle, you can access multimedia files inside the database using such familiar methods as Microsoft Windows Explorer or an e-mail client.

With iFS, you can also move multimedia files in and out of your database as simply as you would move word processor files from one folder to another.

Obviously, this only applies to Windows users. If your client is on a different platform, you can point your browser to the iFS Web server and experience similarly simple access to the same content. In either case, opening the file will have the usual response: A related application will start and show or play the content.

Choosing between Data Links and iFS will depend greatly on platform compatibility and on the current configuration of files on your system.

Whatever your preference, though, you can hardly go wrong with either option.

Indeed, the only wrong choice would be to deny your company the increased security and business boosts of implementing either product.

Senior analyst Mario Apicella (mario_apicella@infoworld.com) has been a database and security freak for more than fifteen years.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Multimedia databases

Business Case: Bridging multimedia files with relational databases ensures that customers can easily view dynamic Web material, such as product photos, without receiving business-killing "file not found" messages.

Technology Case: Storing multimedia files in a database removes your data from the perils of an insecure OS filing system. Implementation costs will vary depending on your storage configuration and platform requirements.

Pros:

+ Dynamic and dependable corporate Web pages+ Secure and consistent business dataCons:

- May require transferring files to a database- May be hampered by platform limitations.

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