RFP Showdown: July 23, 2001

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-07-23

RFP Showdown: July 23, 2001

The Problem

Acme Treats owns 100 ice cream trucks. The trucks have routes in several counties within one state. Each truck sells various types of ice cream treats to local residents. The company wants each truck to provide daily sales and inventory information to a central-office server. The system need not be real time, because truck operators will likely update sales and inventory information only once per day, during midshift break. Please make your recommendations.

My Solution: Chris Dodge

VP, Technical Services
Virsage Solutions Inc.

Virsage, based in Lafayette, Colo., is a management services provider and a Microsoft Certified Partner that has Cisco and Citrix expertise.

By equipping each ice cream truck with an H3600 Series iPaq pocket PC from Compaq Computer (www.compaq. com/ipaq), Acme will be able to connect to the central database via wireless connections, when available, or by using a dialup modem for remote areas.

Each H3600 will be configured with a dual-slot PC Card Expansion Pack that will allow the use of a wireless Internet card, a 56-Kbps modem, or both.

Acmes sales staff will input all sales and inventory information into a custom application on the iPaq handhelds. Virsage Solutions will use Microsoft Visual Basic to develop that application. The app will have a local Microsoft SQL 2000 database, which will allow the truck drivers to enter information while they are not connected to the central database.

The H3600 (about $599 each) will reduce the total cost of ownership of this project, when compared with typical systems that use Windows 2000-based laptops ($2,000 or more each).

When the trucks are in areas that have wireless Internet coverage, drivers can connect to the central network via a VPN connection. Ricochet will provide the wireless Internet access. (To see if Ricochet can serve various customer locations, visit www.ricochet.com/getricochet.htm).

When only dialup access is available, the truck drivers will use a remote-access server connection.

The Firebox 1000 from Watch- guard will provide a secure VPN access point to the central network for the remote clients (for related firewall coverage, see SP, June 11, p. 34, www.smartpartnermag.com/issues). The Firebox uses NT security, which will ease administration because my proposed back-end system runs on Windows.

AT&T business accounts (www.ipservices.att.com) will provide dialup access for areas that do not have wireless coverage.

Once connected, the local Microsoft SQL 2000 database, running on the iPaq, will replicate any new inventory/sales information to a central Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database. The database also will provide clients with off-line access to historical sales/inventory data.

Because real-time information is not critical in this customer solution, we will use a client/server architecture to facilitate off-line data access when no wireless service is available.

A Compaq Proliant ML330 (www.compaq.com/proliant) running Windows 2000 Advanced Server with dual 1-GHz processors would provide enough processing power for the existing 100 users, as well as allow for future growth.

My Solution

: James A. Rothenberger">

My Solution: James A. Rothenberger

ObjectMania! Consulting

ObjectMania, based in Oley, Pa., develops robust and secure software solutions, using nonproprietary technologies like Java, C++ and XML.

We recommend Palm OS-based handhelds, perhaps ruggedized, rather than laptops for greater reliability and a possible $75,000 in savings.

We typically recommend a Unix-based server. If hardware needs to be purchased, we suggest IBM Netfinity xSeries 240/250 for the database server and for the application/Web server. (Redundancy and survivability would be address in a full proposal.)

For software, the Apache Web server and Tomcat application server provide good performance at an unbeatable price. The trade-off is ease of administration, as well as advanced features that most likely are not needed for this solution. If a commercial package is desired, we recommend IBM WebSphere.

The handheld devices will require a Java Mobile Information Device Profile-compliant virtual machine, which can run on any number of wireless devices.

For the database, we recommend MySQL, a low-cost alternative to commercial databases. Record synchronization via XML will handle robust handshaking between the client and server, so rollback support is not critical in this instance. If a commercial database is preferred, we recommend IBM DB2.

A Java application will be used on the handheld device to allow daily sales information to be stored on the handheld and later wirelessly synchronized with the server. That application will have an intuitive GUI and will communicate with the server via an XML data stream sent and received from various Java Server Pages (JSP) running on the application/Web server. Those JSP pages will contain the JavaBeans necessary for database connectivity, connection pooling, XML translation, etc.

The server-side beans will be run-time configurable via secure properties files to allow changes to the system without the need for application recompiling. Client data will be validated via a private unique key stored on each handheld device. JDBC will provide database connectivity.

A Web-based administrative interface will be available to allow alternate access to Acme Treats raw inventory data, inventory reporting and application configuration. A general-purpose Web interface also will be available with a subset of administrative functionality. That Web-based interface will be implemented via JSP templates to allow quick reuse of features for general reporting and alternative data input. All Web-based access will require a log-in and password.

We have recommended those technologies because we believe in open standards that provide flexibility, extendibility and maintainability, as well as support for our object-oriented software design approach.

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