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Database product saves time and money by breathing new life into bank server

Published on May 7, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

Ten months into her new job as CTO of 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union, Carrie Todd was facing a crisis. Her staff was working nights to retrieve data from the credit union's new Compaq server— a laborious process that involved extracting the data from the host system, copying it to the operating-system level, FTPing it over to a PC, delimiting the data, and then importing it into a spreadsheet.

Evenings turned into mornings for the exhausted staff who tried to extract the data from the failing server. This in turn affected the business flow. Bank tellers couldn't open for morning business, which caused long lines of crabby customers outside of branch offices.

Todd faced an unplanned purchase of an additional server to solve the problem. Yet the solution was far from perfect, as the expense and delays could scuttle her plans to expand transactional input points for the Newport News, VA-based business.

"Either we were grossly undersold [in hardware], or there was something seriously wrong with the [software] configuration," said Todd, who ultimately decided to employ a better database to solve the problem.

Low cost brings high performance

Todd pulled in two vendors— her previous employer, Valley Forge, PA-based USERS, Inc. and InterSystems Corporation of Cambridge, MA— to help solve the dilemma. The two companies had recently aligned to provide credit unions with Caché, an open, non-proprietary, post-relational database boasting faster response times and fewer memory needs than ordinary relational databases.

The database starts at $195 per user and is sold under a perpetual license. It requires only 100 MB of disk storage and 10 MB to install. With proper database management, businesses can minimize their storage requirements, said Todd.

Caché uses an efficient multidimensional data model that eliminates the need for two-dimensional tables, making it possible to access data and perform updates with less disk I/O. This in turn speeds the application, said Paul Grabscheid, vice president of strategic planning at InterSystems.

The approach allows virtually any kind of business to put the database to work, including conglomerates like Ameritrade, which processes 88,000 trades each day and accounts for 1.8 million customers.

Outperforms leading products

In addition to being a workhorse application, Caché can accommodate multiple simultaneous users seamlessly, and it often costs less to operate and runs faster than leading products, according to studies and anecdotal user information.

For instance, vendor watchdog KLAS Enterprises ran Oracle against Caché in a health-services environment to see how well the databases handled a mass of concurrent users. When comparing enterprise-wide installations of Caché and Oracle, users reported that they needed one database server to run Caché for every two servers needed to run Oracle. The report also showed that Caché required fewer DBAs to maintain the databases— one for every 2.5 that were required to administer Oracle.

Anecdotal information from the Department of Justice in Bern, Switzerland, estimates that Caché handled transactions at 100 times the speed of Sybase.

Another cost-saving aspect is that Caché supports object-oriented programming, which reduces coding errors and ultimately makes it easier to do high-speed deployments. For example, it took 1st Advantage only two months and $30,000 to integrate the Caché database into the information system.

Integration pays off in more than money

The results of the integration are clear. 1st Advantage has boosted transaction volume by 40 percent— from 500,000 transactions per month in 1999 to 700,000 today.

Performance has also improved in other areas. Before Caché, all non-essential personnel were instructed to stay off the network on the first day of each month so the system could run a three-hour payroll feed from the Federal Reserve. After Caché was implemented, it took just an hour and a half to run the same reports, and performance was so improved that users could continue to hit the system during the payroll feed.

In addition to the time savings and user benefits, 1st Advantage is running on the same Compaq database server while continuing to add members, employees, and a host of new back-office functions— including online banking, debit-card transactions, and more ATMs.

The enterprise also has streamlined the process of extracting data from the database with the use of SQL queries in the DataSafe/SQL information system for credit unions (the system is powered by Caché).

Initially, the credit union cut a 14-hour job in half with the installation of Caché. Now the SQL queries can extract the data in a mere 20 minutes, and users can run their own reports.

"Now the staff doesn't have to be in the office at all hours of the morning," said Todd, who anticipates extending the six-year-old database server for at least another year, and perhaps longer.

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david southgate
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