WorldSync Inc. makes FileMaker database replication and synchronization tools, the cornerstone technology for which received the patent, the company announced on Tuesday.
The companys SyncDek tool remotely synchronizes multiple copies of a file. It takes the place of other options such as putting remote offices onto one FileMaker Server and using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or point-to-point T-1 lines to share the same database.
The patent applies to SyncDeks bi-directional asynchronous data replication technique for database management and synchronization across a peer-to-peer network.
Jonathan Spira, an analyst and CEO of Basex Inc. as well as the author of "Managing the Knowledge Workforce," said that while patents are nice, whats crucial is that WorldSync is one of the companies addressing the need to solve the problem of knowledge workers tapping into outdated—or just plain wrong—information.
"The importance of file replication … is often overlooked," he said in an e-mail conversation. "In todays increasingly mobile world, its hard for knowledge workers to share information—and share the latest information."
Its a challenge, particularly since vendors who make knowledge-sharing tools have failed to pick up on the example of Lotus Notes, even 14 years later, Spira said.
"…the companies havent necessarily learned from what Lotus taught us in 1991 with the introduction of Lotus Notes," which featured replication and synchronization, Spira said.
But why a patent? Database synchronization and management are nothing new. Progress Software Corp., for example, last month rolled out a line of products called DataXtend that covers heterogeneous database replication and synchronization for mobile users and those with unreliable network connections and includes an enterprise database caching product for distributed applications.
Jason Erickson, WorldSync CEO, acknowledged that while centralized replication has been represented in prior inventions, as has peer-to-peer replication, WorldSyncs patent protects the methodology that brings together the best of these two methods.
"Thats pretty momentous for an industry requiring flexible solutions," he said in an e-mail conversation.
WorldSync uses a multi-hub-and-spoke architecture, with each unique record owned at only one node, though any node can own unique records, Erickson said.
When a record is modified by a non-owner, a sync object is created and transmitted to the records owner node for qualification and distribution to appropriate subscribers.
"Our method provides both single-point consistency in conflict detection, resolution and distribution, but also diverse non-centric data sharing communities," Erickson said.
Also, sync objects can be sent and received at any time, he said, providing greater flexibility and fault-tolerance and allowing all nodes to join and exit the network without consequence.
Before such a technique was invented, either a centralized or peer-to-peer approach was required, he said—each of which has its own issues.
To wit: While the centralized approach allows for a single point of authority for conflict detection, resolution and distribution, it places high CPU and memory demands on the hub, since they require any shared data to be shared with the hub computer.
For their part, peer-to-peer approaches can account for disparate data sets at any and all nodes but suffer either from much greater networking demands, as each node must communicate directly with each other node, or from threats to data consistency, as each node makes its own conflict detection and resolution decisions, Erickson said.
"SyncDek allows any node to own any data and control with whom it is shared, but still enforces a centralized point of authority for data consistency (on a record-level basis)," he said. "This offers both inherent load-balancing advantages and political advantages."
Vivek Singhal, vice president of technology for Progress Real-Time Division, said that much of what WorldSync and Progress are doing in terms of data replication are similar.
Both support P2P networks—which is crucial when mobile databases lack the ability to connect to a central server—and both use replication as opposed to synchronization.
"Rather than two databases each shipping their entire content to the other guy in order to figure out what data has changed, they instead are keeping track in each database of what have been the changes," he said.
"Thats important because a lot of times the bandwidth available to mobile databases is limited. If you can be smart about the amount of data youre sending, thats good. It makes the system more viable."
Both companies have also added to those two elements with partitioning and data transformation features.
Partitioning allows discrete subsections of a database to be sent to various mobile databases, thus allowing for data to go only to those database users for whom its relevant.
Data transformation allows for central database information to be changed to suit a mobile database. For example, truncating characters in a description field or censoring out Social Security numbers.
The two products dont compete directly, as WorldSync caters to FileMaker users. Progress caters to the more traditional enterprise databases, such as SQL Server and Oracle.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include input from Progress and to note that SyncDek also features partitioning and data transformation capabilities.