Feeling the need for speed

More agencies kick tires on in-memory technologies that boost database efficiency

Andrey Prokhoro

As more agencies explore a
new form of database technology
called in-memory databases,
contractors and other technology
companies are stepping up
with solutions.

In-memory databases promise
faster transaction speeds
than standard relational database
management systems.

Raytheon Co. of Lexington,
Mass., is incorporating two such
databases for some of the shipboard
electronic and combat
systems of the Navy DDG 1000
Zumwalt Class Destroyers,
which the integrator is helping
Northrop Grumman Corp.
build.

And last month, In-Q-Tel, the
private venture capital firm created
by the CIA, made a strategic
investment in StreamBase
Systems Inc., a Lexington,
Mass.-based provider of in-memory
database software and
associated analysis tools.

In-memory databases are
optimized for use in the working
memory of machines. Usually, databases are stored in
main memory, typically on hard
drives. When new material is
generated, it is written to disk
first, and when a query is made
of the database from a program,
that material has to be read off
the disk.

In contrast, in-memory databases
reside entirely in the
working memory, or RAM, of a
server or cluster of servers ?
though they can be archived on
disk. Material is only written to
disk later, if at all.

"The working dataset that the
application will be using is resident,
or persistent in memory,"
said Patrick Moor, head of government
contracting and manufacturing
for Ants Software
Inc. of Burlingame, Calif., one
of the companies chosen for the
Raytheon work.

The other company was
TimesTen, another inline database
company now owned by
Oracle Corp., of Redwood
Shores, Calif.

RAM works faster than hard
drives, although it also is far
more expensive on a per-byte
basis. It also is volatile, meaning
the data is lost once the
power is shut off. But because
these in-memory
databases reside in
RAM, they are generally
able to ingest
hundreds of thousands
of transactions per second.
They also can be queried
more rapidly.

"For many applications
where you need to capture,
react to and analyze that data
instantaneously, a database is
just too slow," said Bill Hobbib,
vice president of marketing at
StreamBase. With a traditional
relational database management
system, "you are storing
the data before you query it. We
can query the data at the
moment it arrives."

In tests, StreamBase has
shown that its software can
ingest as many as 500,000
messages per second, whereas
an RDBMS can, at most, take in
about 3,000 messages per second,
Hobbib noted.

For its destroyer work,
Raytheon's Integrated Defense
Systems was looking for a database
that could ingest a lot of
information from radar and
sonar systems. Raytheon even
generated an acronym to
describe the environment,
CRUD ? create, replicate, update
and delete ? said Paul
Rivot, a director of competitive
technologies at IBM, which is
supporting Raytheon's work.

Traditionally, to tackle the
problem, government contractors
would write a custom program
that would run an entire
database in working memory in
such a way that new material
wouldn't be written to disk first.
"It was so expensive, and you
would have to custom develop it
for each application," Rivot
said. "Using an off-the-shelf
memory and database product,
it is obviously cheaper."

The Ants software combines
an in-memory database with
regular RDBMS, so material
can be stored through regular
SQL commands. For its own
software, StreamBase also kept
close with SQL as well. It keeps
the basic syntax, programming
primitives and declarative
nature of SQL. But the
StreamBase software extends
the language with additional
capabilities, such as handling
data that arrives out of sequential
order, matching complex
sequential patterns and detecting
patterns over periods of
time.

A database programmer
could learn StreamBase extensions
in about a day, Hobbib
said. No standards body oversees
the company's extensions,
but StreamBase is looking into
that possibility.

In-memory databases are not
the only way to accelerate transaction
and analysis speeds. You
could also make the hard drive
much faster.

Texas Memory Systems Inc.,
of Houston, offers hard storage
systems that appear to an operating
system as hard drives yet
consist entirely of much-faster
RAM units. When outfitted
with a standard
RDBMS, such solidstate
drives could
process hundreds of
thousands of transactions per
second, said Woody Hutsell,
executive vice president of
Texas Memory Systems. Each
unit can hold as much as 128G,
and they can be tethered
together for more capacity.

Washington Technology associate
editor David Hubler contributed to
this story. Joab Jackson is assistant
managing editor for technology with
Government Computer News.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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