Future-ProofBy David A. Kelly
Choose the best of today’s tools to build next-generation Oracle Database applications.
Trends in application development have come and gone over the years. Remember when client/server was new? Rich, thick-client applications ran on UNIX-based workstations and later on PCs. Remember the rise of the thin client? A Web browser on a PC became the delivery method for portable—across different desktops—thin-client applications. The next platforms for application delivery are here, and users are demanding a rich and portable experience on these rapidly evolving devices.
“These days, application developers are creating rich, browser-based applications that need to work on everything from the corporate desktop to smartphones and tablets,” says Michael Hichwa, vice president of software development at Oracle. Hichwa is responsible for several Oracle developer products aimed at database application development, including Oracle SQL Developer (see “Database Development Choices” sidebar).
According to Hichwa, development tools for Oracle database products are leveraging HTML5/CSS3 technology at the same time that they’re becoming more declarative, to facilitate faster development. “We want to enable our customers to build out applications faster, and with all the features they need,” Hichwa says.
The Express Path
Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma is one company with an eye on trends as it deploys its state-of-the-art custom-built customer relationship management (CRM) database application, originally built for the desktop, to 1,000 field users on multiple platforms, including the iPad.
Purdue is a privately held pharmaceutical company based in Stamford, Connecticut. The company—and independent associated companies—engage in the research, development, production, and marketing of prescription and over-the-counter medicines and healthcare products. Purdue is an industry leader in pain management and is introducing important products in other therapeutic areas such as insomnia.
Since a restructuring in 2005, the company has focused on bringing new, innovative medicines to the marketplace while simultaneously managing costs and creating an agile IT infrastructure that can rapidly adapt to meet changing business needs, all the while staying ahead of technology.
“The rapid pace of technology change is something that we have to stay on top of,” says Larry Pickett, vice president and CIO at Purdue. “Over the past several years, we’ve focused on using newer technologies and approaches, to support the growth of the company.”
For example, after the restructuring, Pickett and his team looked for creative ways to drive down costs while still meeting Purdue’s business needs. “That’s where Oracle Application Express first came into play,” Pickett says. Sayee Natarajan, Purdue’s director of sales systems, used Oracle Application Express to prototype a new CRM solution to manage Purdue’s sales territories.
“The new CRM system worked so well, we rolled it out to our entire field sales force,” says Pickett. “We’re continuously improving it with new capabilities, while continuing to receive rave reviews from users.”
The application is also providing Purdue with significant cost savings. Comparing it to the system it replaced, Pickett estimates savings of about US$2 million annually, “so over the life of the system so far, we’ve saved the company roughly [US]$12 million,” he says.
Another benefit is the agility and development speed Purdue gets from Oracle Application Express, says Natarajan. “Oracle Application Express allows us to do rapid iteration and rapidly respond to feedback from our users, proving that the agile development idea really works.”
Pickett concurs. “We’ve been able to make changes based on business needs very quickly and very effectively,” he says. Based on input from users in the field, Natarajan’s team “has been able to iterate six major versions a year along with six minor versions.”
According to Pickett, Purdue’s salespeople are very excited about the solution—especially new hires coming from competitors. “Our salespeople feel that our Oracle Application Express–based CRM system is better than anything on the market,” says Pickett. “It’s adding a lot of value.”
Over the years, Natarajan and his team have deployed the CRM application to Microsoft Windows, Red Hat Linux, Oracle Linux, Mac OS, and most recently, the Apple iPad. The port to the iPad took only 90 days. “The fact that we could port our application to the iPad in 90 days speaks to the power of Oracle Application Express and our ability to rapidly prototype,” says Natarajan.
The company uses Oracle Application Express for more than 40 production applications, including its eCaseFile system for adverse events and the product R&D pipeline project-tracking system, both of which are mission-critical. The project-tracking system, says Pickett, works on the iPad as well as the company’s portal and “captures all of the decisions and decision criteria for advancing projects through our R&D pipeline to our product portfolio, so the system is the tool we use to get new products to market—managing the cost, the timing, critical-path decisions, and so on. It’s a really innovative application that our R&D executives are using.”
Building Cloud-Ready Database Applications
When you’re building a cloud-based product that must be able to scale exponentially, you need a solid, reliable database solution. “That’s where MySQL comes in,” says Navdeep Singh, vice president of IT and operations at Emeryville, California–based Lyris. “We needed a very solid database that could easily scale and seamlessly integrate with other components—such as [Apache] Hadoop—to enable the rapid processing of massive amounts of data and automate digital marketing activities.” Like many other companies Singh had worked for in the past, Lyris developed its current application offering using MySQL.
Lyris has been providing digital marketing automation solutions and services to its customers—sophisticated marketers who want to deploy intelligent multichannel campaigns across e-mail, social, and mobile channels—for more than 10 years. “Our software helps organizations automate digital messaging campaigns using rules based on the specific customer segments they’re targeting,” says Singh. For example, using the Lyris platform, marketers can define rules that specify precise message sequences to selected subsegments, such as sending follow-up e-mails or social notifications to a group of customers only after an initial message has been viewed, and not sending subsequent messages to customers who have not yet taken action on earlier communications.
Lyris ensures that its products deliver top-notch performance by scaling horizontally with multiple instances of MySQL Database and then taking advantage of MySQL’s replication feature. “Replication is absolutely critical to scaling our technologies,” says Singh. “Multiple replicas of the production database let us run sophisticated reports without affecting the performance of the core application.” This approach also provides Lyris with higher availability, because one of the many replicas can take over processing automatically if necessary, allowing marketers rock-solid application reliability and access to up-to-the-minute reports that measure the impact of their digital marketing initiatives.
Singh also points out how much information and support is available to the MySQL developer and DBA communities, not only from Oracle but also from MySQL internet support channels, newsgroups, community forums, and the like. “MySQL is really easy to monitor, manage, and maintain. And, you don’t necessarily need high-end hardware,” says Singh.
Singh doesn’t foresee any future problems scaling his MySQL solution to meet his company’s evolving needs. “It’s pretty simple. Our product wouldn’t function without MySQL,” says Singh. “No matter how our business evolves in the future, I’m certain MySQL will be a part of it, especially given how well it plays with emerging big data technologies.”
Digging Deeper with Oracle Data Provider for .NET
Although Web-based delivery is the wave of the future for many applications, the approach is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, independent software vendor and Oracle partner Spatial Eye, located in the Netherlands, uses Microsoft tools and technologies such as Microsoft .NET to develop Microsoft Windows–based applications for spatial analysis.
For integration with Oracle databases, Spatial Eye’s Windows-based solutions rely on Oracle Data Provider for .NET (ODP.NET) to move data. “From a developer perspective, ODP.NET is very easy to use,” says Patrick van Dijk, lead developer and architect at Spatial Eye. “ODP.NET integrates very well with our environments.”
The Spatial Eye product portfolio includes a spatial data warehouse application and an application called Call Before You Dig. Spatial Eye Call Before You Dig is an off-the-shelf solution that can be configured and customized for various communication processes (phone, fax, e-mail) and datasources.
The company’s flagship product, Spatial Workshop (available in Standard, Professional, and Ultimate editions), lets users explore, visualize, query, analyze, and integrate spatial data to varying degrees. Spatial Eye Call Before You Dig and Spatial Workshop run on Windows and work with spatial data contained in an Oracle database running the Oracle Spatial option.
Spatial Workshop can be used as a desktop application, or as a mobile field system. Geographic information from Oracle Spatial can be taken into the field using standard Oracle replication techniques, so users have access to up-to-date information before they start tearing up a roadway, for example. Spatial Eye’s products and services also leverage the Oracle Workspaces API.
For example, a city planner designing a new electrical system for the city or a neighborhood can develop alternatives of the plan, and then use Oracle Workspaces to store and compare different versions. Spatial Workshop supports a plug-in, developed using the Oracle Workspaces API, to tap into that data and facilitate the comparison.
But ODP.NET is the primary Oracle development tool for Spatial Eye. “ODP.NET is very rich, and the implementation does a lot,” says van Dijk. “It scales well, both in terms of analysis and in getting data from the Oracle server into the online application.”
Tools for Tomorrow
Regardless of which tools developers use to create the next generation of applications, development will still revolve around the data held in relational databases, such as Oracle Database and MySQL. “SQL is still the backbone of the industry,” says Oracle’s Hichwa. It’s still a very effective way to manipulate data, he adds, noting Oracle’s goal is to make sure “developers have the best experience possible when creating applications that target Oracle databases.”
David A. Kelly (davidakelly.com) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.
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