Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Day: September 4, 2007

Relational and Object-Oriented Solutions Are Here To Stay

Comparing relational vs. object-oriented database use in content management is highly subjective, and can’t be generalized. That would be like saying that the movie is always better than the book it is based on. Take the Harry Potter series. While the books have been phenomenally successful, the movies are doing equally well at the box office.

There’s not a one-size fits all approach for technology either. Comparing relational and object-oriented databases needs to be done from several perspectives – notably business rationale for the end user as well as technological advantage – not just one.

On the business end, documentation is mission critical, and must be available 24×7. Relational databases like Oracle support application clustering and high availability out of the box. Customers can count on Oracle always being available, and in a global working environment, everyone can get their job done.

Many businesses need to migrate from some form of binary documentation to XML, but it doesn’t happen instantly. Using a relational database, these businesses can store their binary documentation and take full advantage of a CMS while they undertake the process of converting to XML. A relational database can also act as a single repository that stores both XML and binary content, eliminating the need for a separate file system and creates a more homogenous environment for IT.

When business demands and technology realities meet, an argument can be made that a mission critical database application like Oracle requires an amount of care and feeding to be properly maintained. There is, however, also a misunderstanding that with an XML database, an end user can simply let it run and everything is fine.

In reality, many companies like to have control over their “family jewels,” and may want the option of feeding other applications that have canned integrations to relational databases. XQuery may be great, but businesses need to search for content that can be in many forms, XML, PDF, Word, etc. Using a relational database and other technologies, it is possible to support a very robust search mechanism across over 295 different formats.

In both cases, scalability is always a concern. The user must be able to scale and manage both vertically (larger machines) and horizontally (additional machines) while maintaining the integrity of the data and 24×7 access to the system.
Relational databases provide out-of-the-box horizontal scalability, as well as the ability to acutely control how system resources are used. This is crucial in serious business applications. Relational databases can stuff entire areas of XML into a single row (such as a … with hundreds of sub tags). This can be a real advantage, especially if is the users’ only needs are to work with and repurpose that section.

In the native XML database model, the users would end up with hundreds of rows in their database because each tag is stored separately. Even if all the users wanted to do is repurpose a section, they would need to handle every single row.

The proof lies in customer deployments. Many companies have replaced object oriented databases in large part because they didn’t scale. Consequently they’ve been able to grow into very large solutions using a relational database. In fact, one global customer expects to manage a terabyte of data in their (Contenta) CMS by year’s end. Now that’s scalable.

Just as there are many business and technology needs, there are many viable alternatives, including relational and object-oriented databases. To dismiss an entire technology because of one company’s recent acquisition is a blatant sales pitch at best, and technological ignorance at its worst.

Using Expertise and Enterprise Search to Drive New Knowledge

Drew Robb has written an excellent article that reflects new thinking about the convergence of older and emerging technologies. In Search Converging with Business Intelligence for CRM on August 28, 2007 I see similarities to my own way of viewing what is possible with newer search tools. Be sure to read it.

In addition to enterprise search, I actively follow enterprise knowledge management. It has been much debated because of confusion about its links to inappropriate technologies and well-intentioned but costly and failed initiatives in many organizations. But, in spite of rumors about its death, KM will remain a boundless frontier of opportunity. At its best, it leverages collaborative and sharing practices to maximize the value of organizations’ discoveries, developments and learning using innovative and often simple practices that work because they suit a particular culture’s way of operating.

Popular writings about business and technology innovation, plus tools and techniques for collaboration and sharing abound. 2007 is surely the year when search has come to dominate the technology landscape as vendors in BI, text mining and text analytics, data management, and countless semantic and Web 2.0 entrants vie to add refinements, and conversely search integrates features from those technologies.

In August I commented on search offerings that have made a point of highlighting their “Sharepoint” connectivity. Similarly, many products are adding claims for exploiting emails. I have long assumed that email should be part of the search engine crawling and indexing mix for any intranet. Given email structure, it seems to have more useful and usable metadata than a lot of other content. Social network analysis tools have been terrific at revealing fascinating relationships and internal communications within organizations, especially in the discovery area as emails have been a source for exploring questionable business practices in legal proceedings.

More sophisticated analytic and semantic techniques for exploiting concepts in content give hints about how technologies can integrate content by mapping experts to the expertise they contribute, even when it is scattered throughout their work, including emails where so many nuggets may reside. An area for development would correlate nuggets of knowledge in emails to reveal hidden and latent expertise, pointing to other content an individual has produced using search with BI and analytics algorithms.

Maybe I’m overreaching but I suspect that a lot of experts may not be sufficiently motivated, disciplined or expected to aggregate their small but useful contributions into more valuable knowledge. Regardless of the reasons for that failure, much could be revealed with the right blending of search, indexing, analytics and business intelligence technologies. The components already exist but implementation to get desired results are not necessarily easy to deploy. A truly innovative expertise exploitation engine would be a knowledge engine of note, able to synthesize new knowledge in unique and interesting ways. Historically, much has been made about the role of serendipity in the “search for truth” and “quest for knowledge.” With the aid of enhanced search technologies to blend any or many expert nuggets, a lot more serendipity might happen.

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