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In early 1998, Bruce Scott, one of the cofounders of both Oracle Corporation and Gupta Technology, opened the doors of his fourth start-up company. With this one, PointBase, Scott returned to his database roots with a simple but ambitious business plan: develop the next generation of database software for managing data anywhere on the Net. Specifically, the database should serve applications at three levels in the Net and coexist optimally with major enterprise-class data management systems such as Oracle, Sybase and DB2. Targeted were the server level, typically hosting e-commerce applications; the client level, with applications for mobile users; and the Internet appliance level, for devices such as Web-based PDAs (personal digital assistants) and set-top boxes.

A little over a year later, PointBase is well on its way to realizing that plan with the release of version 2.1 of their Server and Mobile Editions in May and their recent decision to make free demo versions available from their Web site at www.pointbase.com.

PointBase's database products are built with 100% Pure Java to take advantage of Java's open platform architecture and Internet readiness. Supporting Java and CORBA/DCOM standards, PointBase has "drop in" compatibility with all major Java application development environments, application servers and e-commerce servers. Its self-management capabilities ensure reliable operations, a requirement of software that will be distributed across the Net.

With its new products, PointBase is putting unprecedented data-processing power in a small, portable package exactly what is needed by the company's targeted applications. PointBase offers extremely low-cost ownership through innovations in data integration, ease of use, extensibility and adherence to industry standards.

Because of PointBase's compatibility with corporate databases and seamless data synchronization capabilities, PointBase can extend a central repository of data out to millions of mobile workers via dial-up, network and wireless cellular connections over the Net. And because of its exceptionally small footprint (requiring as little as 270 KB of RAM), PointBase is particularly useful for applications such as Internet catalogs, which are structured to deliver fully integrated packages of data and data management capabilities in one download.

As noted, PointBase is led by founder, president and chief executive Bruce Scott, a pioneer in the database industry and a leader in the area of enterprise and embedded database architecture and product development. Indeed, Scott "wrote the book" on the first iterations of SQL, which has become the industry standard for powerful database applications. Along with Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates, Bruce cofounded Oracle in 1997 and authored more than half of Oracle's first-generation products.

After Oracle, Scott cofounded Gupta Technology (later renamed Centura Software), where he came up with the notion of the small-footprint workgroup server for the Intel-based platform, and delivered to the marketplace Gupta's SQLBase the first database to target the needs of workgroups and mobile database applications.

During the first few months of PointBase's operation, Scott garnered industrywide recognition for its ambitious goals. Scott is joined by cofounder Jeff Richey, who has a track record of developing world-class databases, including development work on Oracle, DB/2 and Sybase. Shortly after Richey was introduced to Scott's plan, he left IBM, where he was slated to manage a major overhaul of DB/2, to join Scott at PointBase.

In November 1998, PointBase received Red Herring magazine's "Catch of the Season Award." The honor recognizes PointBase for its "experienced management team, strong focus on a viable long-term market and excellent Java-based technology." In the March 1999 edition, Red Herring featured PointBase in its regular "One to Watch" feature, again for its innovative approach in the database market.

Managing Data Anywhere on the Net
The arrival of the Internet has led to the emergence of a dramatically new networked computing environment. Unlike the closed architectures of the past, networks today can use the Internet's open standards to link different levels of servers, workstations, devices and back-end systems.

Today's databases, however, have yet to leverage the potential of the Internet to extend the power of distributed data processing to new levels. Client/server systems have made the transition to the Internet, but they still rely on closed technology and legacy code, drawbacks that limit their effectiveness. And the databases so far available for the Internet lack the open architecture, platform independence and standards support to fully enable distributed computing.

Scott remembers when porting relational databases onto every platform was a nightmare of epic proportions until Java surfaced. "Now those issues are receding...." PointBase takes full advantage of the distributive power of the Internet and the cross-platform independence of Java to provide anonymous deployment, a term PointBase has trademarked to describe the feature of being able to download their database onto any platform and have it run flawlessly as long as Java is supported on the target machine.

"It wasn't that long ago that naysayers claimed it was impossible to create a set of standards and write software that could be used on any platform," says Scott. "Well, we're here. We're now in a position to deliver data processing power to all levels of the organization over the Internet."

Applications Across the Board and Across the Net
E-commerce systems are a phenomenal growth area, but databases haven't kept pace with their functionality. To support Web-based e-commerce, a database just like the e-commerce system it supports must provide:

  1. Seamless integration with a variety of enterprise-class databases
  2. Platform independence to enable customers to leverage their existing infrastructure
  3. Distributed object computing with support for JDBC
  4. Adaptive management for worry-free operations
  5. The ability to support local updates to avoid direct exposure of back-end systems to the Web.

Figure 1
Figure 1:

PointBase is the only multiuser, pure Java database that provides this set of features.

Projections of the number of mobile workers indicate that somewhere between 60 million and 108 million of them will participate in the workforce by the end of 2001. Whatever the actual number turns out to be, one thing is certain: there will be a lot of them. As this increasingly mobile workforce takes their applications on the road, there is a growing disconnect between the data and applications they leave behind in the enterprise and the versions they carry in their laptops. Databases that support mobile applications must deal with these issues, and in addition need to provide SQL compatibility and the ability to reconcile data bidirectionally with the corporate database. Moreover, to be mobile, an application must have a small footprint; however, to be trusted with mission-critical functions, a mobile application must have a level of functionality that complements that of the prime-time enterprise applications. In addition, ease of use and a high degree of automated, worry-free maintenance are must-haves; mobile applications must not require a technical database administrator to ensure continual operation. PointBase meets these requirements.

Internet appliances share many of the same requirements of e-commerce systems and mobile applications in fact, they are mobile, or remote, computing devices themselves, with limited functionality. To begin with, software for such appliances Internet-connected PDAs, Web/cable set-top boxes, even devices such as car navigation systems and telecommunications hubs and switches requires an exceptionally small footprint. Such applications must be self-managing, provide zero or near-zero administration and be easily deployed on a wide range of platforms. PointBase meets these requirements too.

Product Attributes
PointBase products are certified for Apple, HP-UX, IBM (AS/400, RS6000 AIX and OS/390), Linux, Windows 95/98/NT, Novell NetWare and Sun Solaris. They support data replication to and from Oracle, Sybase, IBM DB/2 (AS/400, OS/390, UDB), Microsoft SQL Server and Lotus Notes. DataMirror, an industry leader in data replication, data extraction and data transformation, provides the critical components for the PointBase heterogeneous replication technology. This compatibility means customers can leverage their investments in existing technology, and can painlessly scale their database solutions with the growth of their business.

PointBase products also support the CORBA/DCOM standards for distributed object computing, the JDBC standard for Java database connectivity and Internet standards including FTP and HTTP. And PointBase products are SQL compliant, with native support for DB/2 and Oracle SQL statement sets.

PointBase products can be extended easily on Java servers. In the new world of Java development, application developers expect to extend, customize and specialize products they use through the magic of Java object-oriented programming. PointBase meets this expectation by providing a fully extensible database to allow for customer-oriented customization. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all databases.

PointBase Server Edition is the first multiuser Java database available in the market. It is well suited to e-commerce applications and Java servers. In addition to the features above, it provides:

  • Multiuser concurrent use: Supports unlimited users with concurrency management and row-level locking.
  • Multiuser security: Provides server-based multiuser security and an open naming and directory framework. Encryption is fully supported.
PointBase Mobile Edition is a multithreaded single-user database designed for mobile clients and Web-based appliances. With its small footprint, the Mobile Edition doesn't take up a lot of space on the hard disk, as little as 270 KB of RAM next to nothing when compared to the competition.

About the Author
Scott Davison is one of the founding editors of SYS-CON Publications, Inc., the publisher of Java Developer's Journal. Scott can be reached at [email protected]


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