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Breaking out of the data center

As enterprises become increasingly decentralized -- through the globalization of business and the rise in mobile and remote workers -- their needs and demands for data management and data centers are changing. In particular, today's enterprises need data management designed for the complexities of frontline environments, not just for the traditional data center.

This article examines the trend among enterprises to have greater volumes of data residing outside their traditional data centers and in frontline environments. It discusses how enterprises are accomplishing this, including an overview of databases for frontline environments and the synchronization technologies to move the data between this frontline environment and the data center.

The changing landscape
Stretching from sea to sea

Information technology has changed enterprises dramatically over the past several decades. Many technology and business visionaries believe IT's biggest impact is still to come -- that the enterprise of tomorrow will be decentralized in ways we don't yet understand. Some of the forces that are helping to shape this change can already be seen through globalization of business, increasingly dispersed workforces, and more highly-mobile workers.

With this greater decentralization, data is coming out of the traditional data center and finding residence throughout the enterprise, in frontline environments. For example, information technology already powers:

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  • Server applications operating in remote offices or retail locations;
  • Desktop applications on employee computers, embedded within point-of-sale systems, or kiosks; and
  • Solutions running on laptops, tablets, PDAs, smartphones and other mobile devices, or embedded into remote sensors.

The changing data geography
Inside, outside, and everywhere in between
Data that was once managed primarily within the data center is increasingly living outside its four walls and spread throughout the enterprise. Let's take the rise of mobile workers as an example. Some of the more innovative companies have equipped their field workers and sales representatives with mobile devices. Thousands of these mobile workers are often spread throughout North America, each with corporate data on his mobile device.

This is significant because data traditionally at the center of the enterprise's IT infrastructure is now pushed out to the edge. And it's not just a little bit of data. This changes the geography of data management. No longer is the permanent storage only in the data center, but data now also is dispersed throughout frontline environments.

Data Management
Is that a data center in your pocket?

These shifts have a fundamental impact on the concept of the "data center." Data managed in frontline environments often needs the same level of reliability, security, and support as data within a traditional enterprise environment. It still requires enterprise-caliber data management. It must be done in a very different way, however.

Traditional database solutions have depended on "location," "network" and "DBA" to deliver reliability, security and support. Security often relied on network architecture design (i.e., firewalls) and a secure physical location. Reliability and support depended on an on-site DBA to tune, maintain and configure the database. In frontline environments, however, there are no guarantees surrounding "location," "network" or "DBA." This places the burden of reliability, security and ease of support squarely upon the database server.

In frontline environments, firewalls and locked doors often must be replaced with rock-solid user management and the encryption of database files and communication streams. Reliability and performance cannot always be accomplished through on-site IT staff; rather, self-maintenance and security are key attributes. Backup and recovery must be automated, failover in server environments must be turned on with the flip of a switch, and performance tuning should occur without the need for DBA involvement.

Support also becomes a fundamentally different process. With end users often the only people in the frontline environment, IT support staff must be able to remotely manage and support databases, servers and applications.

Data exchange
From data byway to information highway

Technologies to exchange data continue to grow in importance as data continues to move out of the data center and into frontline environments. The data center has been moving data between enterprise systems for a long time, but taking data into frontline environments presents some unique challenges.

With data spread throughout the enterprise, there may be multiple instances of the same data in more than one production database. This can cause the different databases to have differing sets of data as new transactions are applied. Conflict resolution techniques must then be employed when synchronizing changes to the data among the various databases.

Some enterprises may eventually have thousands, or even tens of thousands, of mobile workers exchanging data with a database in the data center. This kind of load on the systems requires data exchange technologies that can scale to these levels while simultaneously applying techniques to minimize the volume of data that is exchanged.

The right model for exchanging data will differ with the specific IT environment, whether it is by data synchronization, replication, enterprise messaging, Web Services or some other means. In fact, enterprise architects may need to employ multiple approaches at any given time.

Final thoughts
Glimpses into the future present an enterprise that continues to be more and more decentralized. The concept of the data center in the 21st century will need to evolve to support a more distributed workforce and business environment. This is going to require IT departments to shift their thinking from "How do I secure data within the data center?" to "How do I effectively take data outside the data center?"

About the author: In his role as a Sybase iAnywhere SQL Anywhere product manager, David Jonker focuses on helping software developers understand the unique value SQL Anywhere offers in managing data outside the data center. Before joining iAnywhere in 2001, he held various consulting, product management and software development roles. David has a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

This was first published in June 2006

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