New Functionality in IBM Informix 12.1 Strengthen Key Areas

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A former colleague is looking for a database server to embed into an important new factory automation application his company is building.  The application will manage data from a large number of sensor readings emanating from each new piece of industrial equipment his company manufactures.  These values, such as operating temperature, material thickness, cutting depth, etc., fit into the data category commonly called “SCADA” - supervisory control and data acquisition.  Storing, managing and analyzing this SCADA data is a critical enhancement to this colleague’s new application.  His large customers may have multiple locations worldwide and must be able to view and analyze the readings, both current and historical, from each piece of machinery across their enterprise.  

Because of the nature of his customers and the usage of this machinery, the application must have rock solid reliability and data must always be available.  These application requirements dictate that the underlying database server be very stable, integrate cleanly with the application, operate 7x24, and require little or no administrative overhead to keep it running.  The sensor data will be collected from the various devices and stored to a local data server at each location, and then replicated to a central data mart so analytics can be run on the coalesced data in order to forecast the state of the operating environment, utilization, and for capacity planning.

In the IBM portfolio, the Informix data server is well suited for supporting embedded applications since it offers a small footprint, can be installed silently by the encompassing application, can be configured and tuned programmatically by the application, and requires no ongoing database administration.  Applications embedding Informix can easily leverage all of the Informix high-availability and backup solutions to ensure data availability and integrity, as well as to support disaster recovery. These are some of the reasons Cisco Systems embeds Informix in more than twenty of their communications and collaboration solutions.

Informix easily handles the sensor data requirements as well, leveraging its native TimeSeries functionality.  Informix TimeSeries support includes specialized data structures and data access methods, both highly optimized for storing sensor data at regular and irregular time intervals.  These industrial machines will be generating data at regular intervals. Compared to standard relational database storage (RDBMS) mechanisms, Informix TimeSeries optimization can deliver up to a 60% savings in storage and several orders of magnitude in performance improvements.   

Informix provides multiple high availability options which, depending on the specific requirements, can be used to replicate the sensor data from each of the factory locations to a centralized data mart.  Breakthrough IBM BLU Acceleration technology, as implemented in the Informix Warehouse Accelerator (IWA), delivers the highly optimized, compressed, in-memory columnar storage which can be incorporated to accelerate the processing of the analytical queries on the data mart.  IWA allows real-time queries against the data mart, providing the basis for any “what if” queries that can be imagined by the users.

The newest version of Informix, version 12.1, further strengthens each of these key areas of high performance, always-on data access, easy embeddability, ease of administration, and native support for loading, storing, and analyzing time series data.  Here’s how the latest functionality can be applied to this customer’s requirements.

Performance and Embedded Data Management

Informix has been a consistent choice for online transaction processing (OLTP) applications since the mid 1980’s.  Its embedded capabilities, reliability, and administration-free characteristics have made Informix a top choice for ISVs and OEMs for many years.  Many of these applications have data availability requirements of “five nines” (99.999%) or better, and have no administrative support. 

Informix 12.1 makes configuring and tuning simpler than ever. The Informix 12.1 server requires less initial setup by supporting virtually all configuration parameters set through online, programmatic, or file based input.  Compatibility with other SQL applications has been improved with the addition of new or enhanced SQL language constructs and online analytic processing (OLAP) functions. These enhancements allow better leverage of existing and 3rd party SQL or OLAP applications.  One company benefiting from these enhancements is Pronto Software, a major enterprise resource planning (ERP) software vendor headquartered in Australia.  Pronto embeds Informix, as well as IBM Cognos BI, to deliver an all-in-one solution for ERP and analytics for over 1500 clients. With the OLAP enhancements of Informix 12.1, Pronto reports that their ERP software simultaneously meets the demands of their OLTP and complex OLAP workloads in mission critical environments, without sacrificing performance for either.

Bundled BI and Predictive Analytics Options

Additionally, some editions of Informix 12.1 now bundle the Cognos BI software as well as IBM SPSS predictive analytics software. Application performance is improved with Informix 12.1 due to its extended deep compression capabilities which have been extended to include B-tree indexes and simple large object data types along with the in-row table data sets. When configured to do so, the complete storage optimization process, including compression and space reclamation, is performed automatically.  This keeps the storage allocated to the database well under control, as required for this SCADA application example.  With storage under control, the application can utilize the new Informix 12.1 Primary Storage Manager to simplify the backup and restore operations and to support parallel backup/recovery solutions from within the embedded environment.

Updated Open Admin Tool

Another requirement for this SCADA application is an easy to use, lightweight, web-based administration utility.  Some users may want to perform their own administrative tasks, while others may want remote administration from in-house IT or third party administrators.  Developed in conjunction with the Informix 12.1 data server is the Open Admin Tool (OAT) 3.11, a full functioning web based administration tool designed exclusively for Informix data servers. OAT has a wide variety of features catering to a variety of database access roles, including application developers, administrators, and end users. OAT now includes a configurable dashboard, permitting each user to create and customize OAT home screens to graphically display the status of one or more servers defined together as a group. OAT provides additional graphical status information in the form of “heat” maps which depict usage of the server’s extents and buffer pool consumption. OAT can also be extended to include administrative tasks for the factory automation application in addition to the application’s database.  OAT can easily monitor vital server information remotely and securely by an in-house administrator, the application vendor, or third-party IT staff.


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