SQL Server: Real Time Data Processing? When Not To …

During these times when we have the likes of Google, Yahoo, and Ebay, CNN where-in their massive Internet applications and services are run in mammoth data centers filled with thousands of powerful servers ready to process millions of users request and data streaming through mega bandwidth networks, it is but automatic for us developers and database enthusiasts to think of processing data in real-time whenever somebody asks us how we can handle massive amount of data on a very constrained, highly distributed and unreliable environment. Is there such an environment? Let us see.

Let us imagine the rural banks in the country. These rural banks are small and can be found in the most remote of baranggays. They are not so technology savvy, and they still use traditional means of communications. Perhaps only a few have huge servers, while the rest only use personal computers. To make it more constrained and limited, let us imagine that these rural banks use varying forms of networking technology, perhaps some use unreliable dial-ups and low-bandwidth lease-lines. To make it even more pitiful, let us imagine that some can only afford to use decades old floppy diskettes to transport data from one branch to another.

Here is the big question. Can we come up with an affordable solution that would allow them to experience a secured nationwide bank-to-bank interoperations?

Our edge in technology might perhaps convince us that the exercise would be futile as how can we interconnect them when not all of them are connected to a WAN, or we don’t have any assurance of a reliable network connection. We might also wonder how will we integrate some of them that still use diskettes.

Yes, absolutely, we can cook up some system for them … but there is one trivial question we need to ask: Do We Always Have To Process Data in Real Time?

To some, yes. For me? NO.

Anyways, let us not delve too much in what that solution would be like. But let us take a look at an old reliable technology that has made some appearance in some of the latest software offerings out there that can help us solve our rural bank challenge.

I am referring to SQL Server 2005’s Service Broker. For those that are familiar with MSMQ, you will easily comprehend this new feature of SQL Server. Service Broker is designed around the basic functions of sending and receiving messages (just like an email). In its advance form, messages can be secured, queued and routed to specific destinations regardless of whether the communication channel is online or offline (again, just line an email).

Imagine, one rural branch (Quiapo Branch) sends out a message of a money transfer to (Sulo Branch) to notify the Sulo Branch that X amount of money can be released to an authorized recipient. The Quiapo Branch teller just click “Send Message” without knowing that their DSL line just went off. Using Service Broker, the teller won’t even notice that their line went off. The Service Broker will just queue and keep the message until the resumption of the DSL line. Once online, Service Broker sends out the message to the intended destination. If the DSL interruption is for about 1 hour, the transaction delay could just be a bit more than an hour.

With these, we are giving the rural banks the means to operate just like they were online. They need not be bothered if they are offline. The system will just resume its normal operations automatically. So having unreliable and very slow communication/network lines wont be that of an issue.

So who says that we always need to process data in real time?

I’ll try to find time in coming up with something that will tell more about Service Broker. Perhaps somebody out there would want to 🙂

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Additional Information: Service Broker can be used in a lot of scenarios. It can even be used to customize complex data replication requirements. It can be used to split up data paths into multiple channels so that messages can be distributed in as many queues as possible (or queued to a file and transferred unto floppy disks), thereby, increasing capacity and chances to still transport data. This also means that Service Broker can be use to scale applications. Service Broker is also an excellent solution if you want to integrate loosely coupled applications.

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Toto Gamboa is a consultant specializing on databases, Microsoft SQL Server and software development operating in the Philippines. He is currently a member and one of the leaders of Philippine SQL Server Users Group, a Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) chapter and is one of Microsoft’s MVP for SQL Server in the Philippines. You may reach him by sending an email to totogamboa@gmail.com

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