As Published In
Oracle Magazine
January/February 2009

COMMENT: Analyst's Corner

Getting Ubiquitous

By David Baum

Embedded databases enable a wide array of information management capabilities.

Oracle Magazine spoke with Carl Olofson, research vice president of information management and data integration software at IDC, about how embedded database management systems are affecting our lives at work and at home.

Oracle Magazine: Let’s start at the top—what is embedded software technology?

Olofson: Embedded software technology resides inside another software product or a hardware product—take, for example, an embedded Oracle Database within a packaged software application. These special-purpose applications, devices, and equipment often depend on embedded software that can run unattended and manage its own data in a self-contained manner. Users of these applications typically don’t even realize that they’re using a database.

Oracle Magazine: What kinds of applications, devices, and equipment use embedded database software?

Olofson: There are all kinds of embedded database technologies and all kinds of companies using them. For instance, some cell phones have databases built in for storing calling data, messages, contact directories, and personal data, some of which might be replicated to a back-end server. Televisions, set-top boxes, and digital video recorders use embedded databases to store user preferences and program information, and network switches host databases to track information about the status of a computer network. Many types of packaged applications, including patient information systems, parts inventory systems, and order control systems, and so forth, use embedded databases.

Oracle Magazine: How much knowledge of database technology do people need to use an embedded database? 

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Olofson: An embedded database appears to be part of the application. You never interact with it directly. When you install the application, the database is installed automatically. When you turn on the application, the database is available. Thus, there’s a fairly high bar in terms of reliability. These databases are preconfigured and self-managing, so you don’t need a DBA. That’s one of the defining characteristics of an embedded database.

Oracle Magazine: How do database vendors make their embedded solutions accessible to independent software vendors [ISVs] and other solution providers?

Olofson: Database vendors such as Oracle create management APIs so that applications can automatically perform basic administrative functions normally handled by a DBA. Vendors also configure the database installation procedure so that it’s automatic, and they supply a version of the database that can run in unattended mode.

Oracle offers several options here, including an embedded version of Oracle Database; an embedded version of Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database for high-performance requirements; and Oracle Berkeley Database for simple data structures, such as in a vending machine. ISVs must be careful to match the performance characteristics of an application with the user requirements and then select the right database for the task at hand.

Oracle Magazine: What types of advancements do you foresee in this sector over the next two or three years?

Olofson: Cheaper and more-powerful computers will make embedded technology more self-managing, affordable, and ubiquitous. Databases are being embedded in household appliances such as refrigerators. Once there is an effective way to put something like an RFID tag on the products you get in the supermarket, your refrigerator will be able to keep track of what groceries you have, including the expiration date and so forth. You’ll simply look at a readout to see what you need at the grocery store or even print a grocery list. We are also starting to see microwave ovens that can download recipes from the internet, tell you when to add ingredients, and step you through each stage of preparing a meal.

At IDC, we believe that everything that plugs into a wall will potentially be part of a computer network. Your home entertainment system, your personal accounting applications, and the systems you use for browsing the Web will all be one system with different interfaces and form factors. Many of these devices will include embedded databases to do their job. Clearly, we’ll continue to see new embedded database technologies emerge as our needs evolve and change.

David Baum
( is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

IDC is a global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.

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