Epost delivers new database software

When epost, Canada Post’s online electronic post office, decided to switch from Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server database to IBM Corp.’s DB2 software, it did so only after some internal resistance.

“It takes time and money to do that,” said Bob Fletcher, vice-president and chief technology officer at epost. Although epost had been using SQL Server since 1999, Fletcher said it lacked two key capabilities that were important to the company: prioritization of request and online re-indexing.

At first he was reluctant to accept that Microsoft SQL Server could not perform these capabilities. But after Microsoft admitted to deficiencies in these areas, Fletcher knew it was time to seek out a different solution.

“We needed to do it or we would not have an effective service,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the challenge with SQL Server was, as mail volume grew and got imported into the system, it tended to saturate the database and interfered with the response time users received when viewing mail on the Web. DB2, he said, is able to give priority to epost users such as individuals wanting to view their credit card bill versus clients like MasterCard sending all of their customers bills to the epost database.

“[It] was very important to us to keep giving our online users good response time. We have to be able to give priority to the interactive users over the Internet, [but we] still have to do all the other work to get the data into the database. The service priority advantage that we got from DB2 we did not get from SQL server,” explained Fletcher, who deliberated making the switch for six months.

Another area where SQL failed to meet epost’s needs was online re-indexing or reorganizing its database. When data continues to be added to the database it begins to fragment and clutter up, so that it needs to be re-organized to maintain acceptable performance levels. According to Fletcher, both databases allowed them to do this, but SQL only let them do this when online users where not using the database — usually during epost’s scheduled maintenance downtime. However, as its service grows, he wanted to use that time for other maintenance things and not just for reorganizing the database.

“DB2 lets us reorganize the database while interactive users are using (it),” Fletcher said.

The implementation of the new database software is expected to be completed early in 2005.

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