Posts tagged: Microsoft Corporation

Database Systems Compared

My first experiences of a computer started with DBase III+ which is now dBASE, then went on to Foxpro, now Microsoft Visual Foxpro. I have since used Filemaker Pro, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite and HSQLDB. I have not yet used IBM DB2, Oracle. Wikipedia has a list of database systems.

Having worked with this range of database systems and having done copious amounts of research into DB2, Oracle and other DB systems I have not mentioned, I like answering the age old questions. Which is the best database system?

Ah! if only it was that simple. There is no database system that is appropriate for any given requirement. But then, if you have been in the technology sector long enough, you would already know that. It’s all about using the right tool for the job.

I separate these systems into two broad categories and Oracle. There are the Desktop based database systems:

  • DBase
  • Foxpro
  • SQLite
  • Filemaker Pro
  • Microsoft Access
  • MySQL

DBase, FoxPro, Filemaker Pro and Microsoft Access are essentially a GUI frontend that has a database backing.

Access is the best choice for this purpose under the majority of circumstances. Filemaker Pro is relevant in some. The usual reason to use DBase or FoxPro is simply that the developer is used to it. This is not a good enough reason.

I have used DBase III+ for developing an office management suite back in 1994. I have since used Filemaker Pro to develop a simple contact management database in 1998, Microsoft Access to develop a patient management system for a clinic.

SQLite, HSQLDB and MySQL are database engines that are to be utilised by popping a frontend on top; sometimes the frontend is Microsoft Access. Microsoft Access can also be used for its database engine.

Access is usually the worst choice for this except as a stopgap. There are exceptions to this. One is for a web frontend if the site is not too busy and its running on a microsoft platform. You don’t have to go to the hassle of installing anything on the server. The drivers will take care of it all.

HSQLDB becomes an obvious choice for a light java based application and SQLite for any other lightweight applications.

MySQL is substantially more powerful and scales a lot better. I include it in this section because it is a server grade database system that can also work well in a desktop environment.

I have used Access for several web based systems and I have used HSQLDB for unit testing hibernate and for a quick and dirty MP3 library that linked into musicBrainz. I have used SQLite in passing to be utilised by open source products.

I have used MySQL with an Access frontend as a management suite for a website as well.

And we have the server based database systems:

  • MySQL
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • IBM DB2
  • PostgreSQL

MySQL was used as the backed database system for the website. This was the perfect choice since the most important requirement was speed. Particuarly with the Query Cache and Master Slave replication, MySQL was the best choice.

SQL Server was used as the backend system for an online course for the Scottish Enterprise around 1999/2000. While MySQL would have been a good choice this, it was not of production quality at the time.

We have also used Ms SQL Server for an insurance company since all the infrastructure was based on Windows and PostgreSQL did not have a viable Windows version at the time.

We use PostgreSQL for megabus. While speed is absolutely critical, it is a ticketing system which means that transactionality is absolutely critical.

While MySQL now has transactionality with innodb, it is still nowhere near as good as the transactionality provided by PostgreSQL through MVCC (Multi-version Concurrency Control). We could have used Ms SQL Server but the cost savings are dramatic.

To summarise, each system has a specific use, specific strengths and weaknesses and which should be used is highly dependent on what it is to be used for. I am hopeful that the summary of what we have used each of these systems for us useful in determining which one is best placed to solve any specific problem 😀

We have not yet used Oracle and it was a strong contender for megabus but the serious heavyweight functionality provided by Oracle comes at a price and it is not yet a cost effective option.

Master Jack

Everybody knows the old adage – “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I agree with this. So does the whole open source movement (in general). Thunderbird is a good example of an application that does one thing but does it well. Compare that to the old Mozilla suite that did mail, newsgroups and web browsing and one integrated applications and all the problems that came with that.

At Kraya, we believe in being able to do one thing and one thing well. Ironic since we do so many things. Kraya has become more like an operating platform for building a whole set of tools on top. Similar to running multiple applications on your computer. They all do one thing and one thing well (unless we are talking about something like Microsoft Outlook which does loads of things badly).

Then there is the synergy between the different teams that is sometimes absolutely crucial to the success of some of the projects.

As an organisation, we are a little off the wall and don’t really follow the mainstream. We believe that tools and technologies have a specific space they are meant to fill (yes, including microsoft products). They really have no competition as far as desktop operating systems are concerned for users who are not entirely technically literate. Sure the Apple Mac’s are great (and potentially better than Windows) but they have effectively priced themselves out of the mainstream market.

Linux, while fantastic is just not user friendly enough for the masses. My argument with Microsoft is in it trying to fill gaps with products that just can’t handle it. The Server platform while a good product, is not ideal for the range of circumstances under which it is deployed. Microsoft products are very easy to set up and use which also means that the products are generally very easy to set up wrong as well.

Products like Linux (yes, I am generalising) can be a lot more complex to set up but once it is set up, it can usually run without any issues for years. I have servers & desktops that have not been restarted for years (apart from the odd hardware upgrade / change). This is a testament to the sturdiness of the software.

Microsoft Server software is getting there. I remember the days of NT, when I was responsible for a couple of servers. They had to be restarted every fortnight, without fail before it would just fail to work. It was like clockwork…

Part of the reason why we do so many things is that we are different enough and wish to work with companies who can accomodate our very specific needs and there are very few (none that we felt could do that job as well as we could or better).

This has lead us down the path of setting up teams specialing in each area.

  • Software Engineering (which is split up in several areas as well, Java, PHP, Web, Desktop, Middleware and so on),
  • Systems (again split into multiple areas, Web systems, Office Server Infrastructure, Linux Server, Windows Servers and so on),
  • Technical Support (again, Windows based desktops, Mac based desktops, Linux based desktops, Laptops, Hardware and so on).

Krish has set up a film production company to follow his passion for making films and this will be launching with a splash over the next few weeks / months. We have already won a couple of small projects,  he is working on a few projects of fiction and music videos.

Kraya’s new R&D department is involved in developing 2 products and a third project completely unrelated to software.

So, how are we not the jack of all trades and master of none. Well, we are good at technology and all the other things we do as a coincidence. We are good at getting to understand needs, then going out there and finding all the tools that needs to be put together to solve the problem in the most effective manner.

We are currently in the process of putting together some case studies that can demonstrate this in more details… 😀

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