SQL Anywhere Beta Advances on Four Fronts

Opinion: Across-the-board technical improvements outpace rickety business processes.

With todays release of the beta code of SQL Anywhere 10, Sybases iAnywhere subsidiary doesnt send one message. It sends four—and with the sun soon to set on tax season 2005, Id like to add one of my own.

Message 1: Progress is parallel. Version 10 acknowledges the multi-CPU power thats now found in laptops as well as in desktop and server machines, and takes advantage of multiple processor cores. Both query and database maintenance tasks should exploit parallelism, which represents the most cost-effective growth path for system price/performance: I look forward to finding out how well thats being done here.

Message 2: Accessibility, yes; vulnerability, no. Database lookups are no longer like trips to the library, something that you do when you have a specific piece of research to perform—and that you could probably do a few minutes later if needed. Databases are increasingly involved in short-term tasks: Theyre becoming more like the piece of your brain that remembers the layout of a room where the lights have just gone out, helping the enterprise find the best path through the space of immediate options instead of just providing long-range hindsight. Without a prefrontal cortex, your head would have a decidedly Neanderthal shape: Your data center likewise looks better with a more intellectual profile.

This means that databases must be built for high availability—but at the same time for robust security that goes all the way down to the stored bits. For too long, database security has been like the security that your skull gives your brain: a hard shell of firewalls and other perimeter defenses surrounding a soft mushy lump that readily yields its secrets to anyone who can reach it. Database security needs to defend in more depth than Nature does.

Message 3: What developers cant exploit might just as well not be there. The number of people who use databases directly, composing SQL queries on the fly at an interactive prompt, may actually be shrinking even as the number of indirect database users explodes. Developer productivity is the key to reconciling those opposing trends, requiring transparent connections from the interactive and analytic parts of an application to the database foundations. Im mildly disappointed that iAnywhere chose to place its bets entirely on Microsofts Visual Studio as the high-level development environment to be enhanced with Version 10 capabilities, but Im confident that the Eclipse and perhaps also the NetBeans communities will make their interests known.

Message 4: There is no hub. No database should be envisioned today as the single center of all related things. Any given database must be able to take part in the give and take of many data sources and collections, updated in different ways at different times, needing to keep each other informed of relevant state.

Im pleased to see the emphasis thats being placed on all four of these areas of improvement by iAnywhere, but ...

Message 5: No one should expect that even the complete fulfillment of these promises will make business processes work as well as they should.

Tax season is a perfect time to get an annual update of how much progress has been made in one ubiquitous business processs improvement, and also to shed a harsh spotlight on where progress is still sorely needed. As my familys tax preparer, with returns to file every year for five entities in several states as well as for federal taxes, I can tell you that the federal agency gets better every year in making its online offerings work smoothly and making its overall data flows and instructions more understandable. Some state agencies are likewise progressing, although typically lagging about a year behind their federal counterparts, but some states are simply not working hard enough to make their processes clear instead of just accumulating a thickening tangle of complexity.

With the frustration of your own tax filings perhaps in your own prefrontal cortex at this moment, this would be a good time to ask yourself if people who deal with your company—as customers trying to place orders, or as suppliers trying to be good partners—are finding that process as irritating as a tax day that comes five days a week.

Tell me what youre finding taxing at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.


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