Inside JobBy Jeff Erickson
Oracle embedded databases live and work at the core of hardware and software.
On Monday morning, you stop at the corner store to buy a coffee. Back in your car, the indicator light tells you that it’s time for an oil change. Your phone chimes with a text message from the office telling you to hurry in. When you get there, you sign in to your company’s intranet and get to work. You have just used at least five embedded databases. They are working inside the software and hardware around you.
An embedded database sits inside a software application or hardware device and works behind the scenes to manage data. It doesn’t require day-to-day management by a DBA, and the end users are often unaware that they’re even using data management technology.
“An embedded database can serve as the data management layer for a small device, or it can manage data in a large application running on a UNIX server,” says Carl Olofson, research vice president of information management and data integration software at IDC. “ISVs [independent software vendors] that embed databases need to find the database that fits their form factor and the way their system works.”
Rex Wang, vice president of product marketing at Oracle, says that embedded databases meet varying requirements—such as a small footprint, robust feature set, or extreme performance—depending on the product into which each fits. “Oracle offers a choice of databases, from nimble Oracle Berkeley Database to superfast Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database, up to Oracle Database,” he says.
Firich Enterprises Co. (FEC), a worldwide leader in point-of-sale (POS) terminals for the retail, hospitality, lottery, medical, and entertainment markets, needed a small-footprint, embedded database for an inexpensive terminal designed for the small grocery stores and coffee shops that dominate retail in much of Asia. “Our customers for this product can’t pay the cost of a major back-end system,” says Iris Chiang, product marketing director, FEC. “But they still want to be able to customize their point-of-sale terminal to run promotions, honor coupons, and gather intelligence on their business.”
After looking at other database solutions, including MySQL, FEC chose Oracle Berkeley Database for its VIVIPOS terminal. “We were looking for an off-the-shelf database with the features we needed and a reputation for reliability,” says Roger Jang, a technical consultant to FEC. “We didn’t choose MySQL because it has a larger footprint, it’s more expensive, it’s more complicated, and it requires more support.”
FEC developers created a simple application program interface around Oracle Berkeley Database that allows end users or ISVs to quickly customize the terminal. “The advantage of [Oracle] Berkeley Database is that there is no schema, so it’s easy to add and modify fields, which we needed for our customizable design,” says Jang. “Plus, it’s really small, and it’s fast for what we need.”
“[Oracle] Berkeley Database fulfills all our particular needs,” says FEC’s Chiang. “But we had other reasons to choose it: brand recognition and service. We’ve got a toll-free line from Oracle to call when we need help, and even our ISVs can use the toll-free line if they have questions.” FEC believes it gains from its association with the Oracle brand. “We are primarily a hardware vendor,” says Chiang, “so having the Oracle name as part of our software is good, too.”
While FEC measures the vital signs of a business, Toumaz Technology’s Sensium technology measures the vital signs of a patient. To build its system, Toumaz wanted to concentrate on its expertise—the ultra-low-power silicon devices and body area network (BAN) wireless connectivity layer.
“We didn’t want to write a database,” says Keith Errey, CEO and cofounder of Toumaz Technology. “We wanted to help our customers provide better care for patients and know for sure the data system will work.”
By partnering with Oracle, the result was an end-to-end monitoring system that connects the ultra-low-power wireless platform to the back-end database and allows healthcare providers to monitor patient vital signs in real time with wearable sensors.
“With the Sensium system, we capture real-time data from patients with our extremely low-powered technology and seamlessly integrate it into an Oracle Healthcare Transaction Base. From there it can be made available to the appropriate medical personnel,” Errey says.
The Sensium technology can be incorporated into a wide range of BAN devices, including a disposable “smart patch” that is stuck to the skin like an adhesive bandage. Once applied, it monitors heart rate, temperature, and respiration and transmits these vital signs wirelessly to a network node. “We use wireless to cover that first meter—or few meters—between the patient and the network node,” says Errey.
The network node is a key point in the end-to-end system. It is where multiple Sensium devices are controlled and where data enters the network, which may be wired (such as Ethernet) or wireless (such as WiFi or any cellular network). The network node can be a fixed, wall-mounted unit, or it can be a mobile smart phone or wireless PDA. “With Oracle Database Lite 10g embedded in the network node, we achieve a seamless, end-to-end system between the patient and the Oracle Healthcare Transaction Base,” says Errey.
Critical information flows are also important to Amcom Software, a company that provides systems for organizations that need to automate, centralize, and standardize mission-critical communications. One of its solutions is a response system for emergency incident management and mass notification. This system initiates, monitors, and manages emergency communications of all types, automatically delivering messages, collecting responses, and logging activities for reporting and analysis. Other applications facilitate intelligent communications with and between critical-care providers and government personnel in operator-assisted and automated systems.
“Our customers are a 'who’s who’ of government, healthcare, hospitality, and education organizations, from Cleveland Clinic to Stanford University to Caesar’s Palace and top military and government agencies,” says Ed Hixon, Amcom’s director of product management. “They are typically very large, geographically dispersed organizations that require high availability and extreme security.” Thus, Amcom’s solutions must meet stringent U.S. Department of Defense requirements and certifications and pass rigorous audits in the healthcare setting. “We had to embed a true enterprise database to manage the data and business intelligence areas of the platform,” he says.
Amcom chose Oracle Database 10g to capture in its data structure the rules these government and healthcare requirements impose, as well as Oracle’s business intelligence solution for dashboard-type reporting. “We couldn’t capture the information we need with a less-sophisticated database engine,” says Hixon. “We had to have the capabilities that Oracle Database 10g gives us to store and execute the service and application logic.”
That business logic can be simple or complex. “It can be as simple as a directory listing about which building a nurse is in,” says Hixon, “up to where [leaders] have complex sets of rules to help them make a medical, first-response, or national-security decision. We pride ourselves on being able to capture those kinds of specialized rules around how that communication must happen.”
To build its solution, Amcom takes an initial feed of data from its customer, which is a snapshot of that customer’s information for all facilities and personnel. “Once we get onsite, we get fresh production data and then go from there,” says Hixon.
At the customer site, Amcom does all the patching and manages all the database security. “Our customers are using Oracle Database, but they don’t necessarily know it. They never have to log in to Oracle [Database]. Otherwise they might have an IT guy who decides that he’s going to take down the server today to do some maintenance, and then stuff hits the fan,” says Hixon. “That’s why embedded is the way to do it.”
Oracle’s Wang agrees. “As CPU speeds and memory increase, there are more scenarios where embedded databases make sense,” he says. “They’re in our mobile devices, but they’re also in our cars, home appliances, and enterprise software.”
Jeff Erickson is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.