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Linux means Business

Preamble
Linux means Business is a collection of articles that focus on the way businesses can make use of the Linux operating system. For many users the attractiveness of Linux software stems from its price. However for business users the price of the software license is only one factor. In a business environment the total cost of the software is assessed. A corporation will consider developments costs (adapting the software to the company's own specific requirements), support, training etc. Businesses also have a different set of requirements that an application must meet. The software must be compatible with industry standards. If the company needs to issue reports to its clients, they must be in a format their client can understand.

It is sometimes thought that Linux applications cannot challenge Microsoft applications in a commercial setting because the strength of Linux comes from its price. Linux means Business aims to demonstrate that the strength of this operating system arises from other factors such as stability, ease of use, and high quality commercial applications. In addition, the increasing amount of Open Source software is already invaluable to commercial organisations. With full access to source code, companies can easily develop extensions to the software, tailor made to their own specific needs and requirements. Moreover they are not reliant on the good will of a single vendor in order to do business: Linux is about freedom and choice and that is just as important to an organisation as it is to an individual.

Databases

Introduction & Definition

A database is the most vital system for a company as it stores mission critical information. The continual failure of a company's database system can only lead to the demise of the organisation - companies cannot do business without a working system. A database management system , or DBMS, gives the user access to their data and helps them transform the raw data into information. These systems allow users to create, update, and extract information from their databases. Compared to a manual filing system, the biggest advantages of a computerized database system are speed, accuracy, and accessibility. A database is a structured collection of data. Data refers to the characteristics of people, things, and events.

There are two main types of databases; relational and object orientated databases. Relational databases are the most popular type available in the commercial world. A relational database allows the definition of data structures, storage and retrieval operations and integrity constraints. In such a database the data and relations between them are organised in tables. A table is a collection of records and each record in a table contains the same fields. Certain fields may be designated as keys, which means that searches for specific values of that field will use indexing to speed them up.

The most popular database systems are based on the International Standard Organisation (ISO) SQL specifications and ANSI SQL (American) standards. The current specifications widely used in the industry are ISO/ANSI SQL 1992. The upcoming standard is the SQL 1998/99 which is also called SQL-3 is still under development.

MySQL

The first database application we'll look at is MySQL. MySQL is a relational database management system that is a very fast, multi-threaded, multi-user and robust SQL (Structured Query Language) database server. MySQL is also Open Source which means that it´s possible for everyone to use and modify its code. Having the source code available means that developers can adapt the code to meet their specific requirements without having to sign non-disclosure agreements. MySQL has a good feature set including:
  • fully multi-threaded using kernel threads. This means it easily can use multiple CPUs if available.
  • works on many different platforms with C, C++, Eiffel, Java, Perl, PHP, Python and Tcl APIs.
  • SQL functions are implemented through a highly-optimized class library.
  • a privilege and password system which is very flexible and secure, and which allows host-based verification
  • ODBC (Open-DataBase-Connectivity) support for Windows 95/8 (with source).
  • Handles large databases - tables with over a million rows have been created with MySQL with no problems.
  • Full support for several different character sets, including ISO-8859-1 (Latin1), big5, ujis, and more. For example, the Scandinavian characters `@ringaccent{a}', `@"a' and `@"o' are allowed in table and column names.

With MySQL you can easily import Microsoft Access databases directly to a Virtual Server. This just requires installing MySQL on the Virtual Server and installing the supplied ODBC drivers. The MS Access databases can then be used on the virtual server using MySQL. This means that users can have Microsoft Access running on their PC as a nice front-end with the power of MySQL on the Linux server.

The combination of PHP and MySQL is extremely powerful and makes for an efficient way of creating web site administration tools. The MySQL/PHP combination is ideally suited to solving those problems posed by web site designs which just are not scalable, maintainable, or technically feasible using conventional HTML authoring techniques. Knitting together various Linux packages together represents the real strength of Linux, only possible because of Open Source.

There are various types of commercial support available. There are four different levels of support that TCX offer for business users. They are: basic email support, extended email support, login support and extended login support. The support costs between 170 Euro (for a basic MySQL license) to 5000 Euro for one year extended login email support. MySQL follows the Entry level SQL92. ODBC level 0-2 standard but it does have a limited feature set compared with fully commercial relational database systems. MySQL is a very fast and robust system, both essential qualities for use in a business environment. Benchmarks have shown it to be up to 5x quicker than db2. MySQL is a good choice for a database back-end to a website and so has great potential in an Ecommerce environment.

In short, MySQL is arguably the fastest SQL server available and comes with quality commercial support. The program is still being actively developed by TCX and they aim to make MySQL fully ANSI 92 / ANSI 99 compliant in the future.

Oracle

Oracle Corporation is arguably the number one developer of database management systems (DBMS) software in the world. Back in July 1998 they announced a port of Oracle8 to the Linux operating environment. Oracle is a real heavyweight relational database which is ideally suited for business use and provides dot-coms and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) with a reliable, scalable, and secure Internet database based on Linux, the low-cost operating system that has enjoyed an explosive adoption rate among e-businesses.

Oracle is especially suited for e-business because it has built-in analytical functions for data warehousing, Java 2, XML support, and superior security that protects data in-storage and in-transit.

A summary of Oracle features is below:

  • 100% ANSI/ISO SQL 92 Entry Level compliant - NIST tested
  • Transactional Processing
  • Large database support
  • High availability - Online backup by file, tablespace, or database, online recovery & mirrored, multi-segment, log files
  • National Language Support
  • Systems Management and Ease of Administration
  • Concurrency control and declarative integrity constraints
  • Programming Interfaces including JDBC and SQLJ for Java applications

Oracle is supported on Linux as on any other OS, with Oracle Worldwide Support taking full responsibility for the Oracle product, in accordance with the support contract. Oracle offer business users a wide variety of support services including incident support, product support and a premium support service.

Oracle allows easy integration with 3rd party products via industry standard interfaces and tools. Additionally an advantage of Oracle is that it is implemented on a wide range of operating systems, including Linux, which gives clients a choice of which platform to use. Furthermore Oracle implements row level locking which has performance advantages over database systems that only implement page level locking. With the commitment of Oracle to the database market, combined with the rock stability of the Linux operating system this makes for an extremely powerful combination.

DB2

Another commercial database that is ideally suited for e-business is DB2. DB2 is produced by IBM and has been available for Linux since late 1998. DB2 is a multimedia, Web-ready relational database management system, strong enough to meet the demands of large corporations and flexible enough to serve medium-sized and small businesses.

One of the key features of DB2 is its DB2 Control Center which offers administrators an easy to use interface for maintaining databases that can be run from any Java-enabled Web browser. Java developers are catered by the DB2 Universal Database for Linux which offers support for JDBC and SQLJ, and Net.Data allows for the creation of dynamic data driven Web applications. Perl developers can also take advantage of the DB2 Universal Database Perl driver for the Perl Database Interface.

DB2 has support for SQLJ which provides higher performance for Java database applications. It exploits multiple processors of a symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) machine to speed up the execution of a single SQL query. DB2 also has support for Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) and Optimization Features. Businesses can benefit from DB2 because it will easily allow them to web-enable enterprise data and to provide transaction processing

IBM offer a wide variety of support contracts including classes at the customer site. The classes cover such issues as Basic Administration, Advanced Administration, Performance & Tuning, DB2 Connect and they can be specially tailored to fit a business specific need.

According to IBM more than 70% of the world's major companies rely on DB2 to manage their mission-critical business applications. DB2 supports millions of users and terabytes of data in leading e-business applications worldwide. With this sort of usage, business users can feel confident that DB2 under Linux will be extremely reliable. And with the technical resources of IBM available, this makes for an extremely powerful business package.

Informix Internet Foundation.2000

Informix Internet Foundation 2000 is another extremely high quality commercial Linux relational database. It delivers a flexible, reliable and easy to deploy Internet platform - a java toting, XML wielding, object-relational database running on the Linux platform. The Linux version is available at a heavily reduced price compared to the other platforms that Informix is available for and commercial support is also available (although this is not discounted).

Informix Internet Foundation.2000 is specifically designed to work the way the Internet works: seamlessly integrating legacy data with new content, and transparently supporting popular Internet development standards such as Java, XML, and HTML. Dynamic companies are embracing the Internet seeing it as a vital distribution channel for their products. Having a web aware database is therefore going to be critical for businesses.

Internet Foundation.2000 consists of:
  • Informix Dynamic Server.2000 (IDS.2000) - an industry-proven, no-compromise database engine
  • J/Foundation - integrates Java, the programming language of the Internet, with an open, flexible, embedded Java Virtual Machine (JVM) environment
  • Web DataBlade® module - provides a flexible way to transform business data into content-driven applications
  • Text DataBlade module - provides full-text searching directly inside the database engine for documents and text fields in virtually any format that contains ASCII and ISO characters
  • Informix Office Connect - allows Excel developers without any knowledge of SQL or understanding of database technology to create high-performance worksheet solutions that incorporate Java
  • Object Translator - an advanced solution for building object-relational mappings that can be used to connect objects with enterprise data. Visual Basic or Java developers deal with objects in the manner to which they are accustomed, without having to deal with SQL programming via low-level APIs like ODBC or JDBC.

Informix Internet Foundation.2000 delivers a truly scalable platform that grows with your business and adapts to your changing business requirements in Web time.

Informix provide their support services in the name of TechInfo Center. This is an online information service available 24 hours a day that provides support and product news.

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is another very sophisticated Object-Relational database system that is available for the Linux platform. It offers multi-version concurrency control, supporting almost all SQL constructs (including subselects, transactions, and user-defined types and functions), and having a wide range of language bindings available (including C, C++, Java, perl, tcl, and python). Multi-version concurrency control is important because it allows readers to continue reading consistent data during writer activity and enables hot backups from while the database stays available for queries.

PostgreSQL implements an extended subset of ANSI SQL and is highly extensible offering user-defined operators, types, functions, and access methods. There is a GUI FrontEnd Tool for PostgreSQL called pgaccess and ODBC, UDBC, and JDBC drivers available. There are in fact two ODBC drivers available, PsqlODBC and OpenLink ODBC. PostgreSQL has most features present in large commercial DBMS's, like transactions, subselects, triggers, views, foreign key referential integrity, and sophisticated locking. It also can support extremely large databases e.g. greater than 200 GB in size!

Like MySQL, PostgreSQL follows the 'Open Source Code development model'. This helps to ensure that development of the package is maintained, and commercial organisations can easily adapt the software to meet their own specific requirements. There is a further advantage of having an Open Source code database application. If a bug is found in a non Open Source application a company typically can just report it to the software house. It may only be large companies that can actually get the software house to look at the problem and fix it.

PostgreSQL has been in development for over 10 years and represents a mature product. This is an important consideration to a corporation who cannot afford to trust their precious data to a product that has not been extensively tested. Postgres has been used to implement many different research and production applications. These include: a financial data analysis system, a jet engine performance monitoring package, an asteroid tracking database, a medical information database, and several geographic information systems. Postgres has also been used as an educational tool at several universities.

There is commercial support available for PostgreSQL from PostgreSQL Inc. Support contracts range from a basic $200 package offering 30 day install to a Platinum service costing £19,995.00 providing 1 year unlimited support, and 24/7 telephone/email support. And PostgreSQL also donate 25% of all service contract profits back to the development of PostgreSQL, benefitting home and business users. The flexible support contracts are effectively tailored to the size of the company. PostgreSQL Inc also offer full database hosting.

Other databases

There are also a number of other high quality database systems for Linux that deserve a mention. Firstly, Sybase have ported their Adaptive Server Enterprise to the Linux platform. This offers a highly scalable, high-performance database engine which is noted for its speed. Commercial support is also offered. Other notable commercial databases include SOLID, Empress and Adabas D.

A complete list of databases running under the Linux platform can be found at linuxlinks.com.



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