Case Studies

Case Studies

Intelligent Decision-Making that Pushes
the Limits of a Technology

Reliable Software, Inc. Achieves 'Extreme' SQL Server Scalability and Reliability for Leading Web-based Data-Integration Company.
In 1998, Concord, Mass.-based OneSource Information Systems, Inc. faced a dilemma. A leader in the competitive "information aggregation" market space, it needed to provide its customers, including American Express, Boeing, and Merrill Lynch, with the most advanced services. And yet, it was already pushing the envelope in terms of what was doable with current technology.
In particular, OneSource's director of development Eric Helliwell (now, a principal with Scalable Designs, Inc., Lexington, Mass.) wanted to offer his customers customizable browser screens and queries that could be stored and called up at will. He also wanted to add "push"-type capabilities to his application so that it would automatically send important updates directly to the customer's E-mail inbox. Moreover, he wanted to add these features with no apparent decrease in application and query speed.
He called in Reliable Software, Inc., Brookline, Mass., because of its recognized expertise in crafting highly-scaleable, highly-stable solutions involving Microsoft Corp. technologies, including Microsoft Visual C++, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM). Reliable Software's principal, Michael Stiefel, Ph.D., has more than fifteen years' experience building systems and formerly served as a Microsoft Corp. consultant.
According to Stiefel, the project presented many challenges-foremost among them, that the application's scalability pushed the limits of what SQL Server was then capable of. Moreover, because OneSource serviced customers from around the world, the application had to function 24 hours, 7 days a week, with no downtime.
Requirements definition was also difficult, given the varied needs of OneSource's many clients. "What was clear", Helliwell said, "was a need for a value-added, competitively-positioned solution." Finally, there was also a significant integration challenge, since the application's server, database, and middle-tier layers all had to interface seamlessly and reliably with OneSource's panoply of more than 2,500 back-end data sources.

A Counterintuitive Approach That Worked
Stiefel met the above challenges by crafting a multi-tiered applications architecture that moved some of the critical processing from the SQL Server database onto the middle-tier object. "It was a counter-intuitive solution that worked extremely well," says Helliwell, who cites it as only one example of the "intelligent decision-making" Stiefel brought to the project. "Michael chose the most appropriate solution based on the available options. Another consultant might have suggested we reengineer around an object-oriented or relational database. That was the more obvious choice, but it would have involved tradeoffs in performance, data integrity, and cost."

The ensuing programming and integration project lasted more than a year, during which, according to Helliwell, OneSource benefited not only from Stiefel's technical candor-"Some consultants will tell you what you want to hear, but Michael tells you what you need to hear."-but his openness to new approaches. "He's not the type to pontificate and say 'this is how it is.' 'He's always willing to engage in discussion and, if necessary, adapt to what he sees at that point of time."
OneSource also benefited from Stiefel's ability to involve and interest Helliwell's team. "Some consultants are totally hands-off with your development team, says Helliwell. "They want to get the specification and go away with it." Stiefel, in contrast, "is a high-energy person, and he energizes people. He's a teacher, and he likes to gets people involved in the process."
According to Helliwell, Stiefel's work was directly responsible for OneSource's signing on mutual fund giant The Vanguard Group as a customer. "They would not have become a customer had this functionality not been in place." It was also integral to the development of the OneSource Custom Alerts product, which was showcased by the company in a nationwide publicity campaign.

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