Microsoft adds wireless notification services

Microsoft Corp. has announced an application platform that will let corporations use the SQL Server 2000 database as a foundation for creating notification services for wired and wireless users.

With SQL Server 2000 Notification Services, network executives can extend corporate, Web-based and portal applications with a mechanism that notifies users when updates have been made to information within those applications, such as price changes in a supply-chain application.

While notification services are available in many applications, Microsoft’s service lets companies aggregate all notification services onto one platform so end users can subscribe to those notifications through a single interface. Competitor Oracle Corp. offers similar services and IBM Corp. has a publish-and-subscribe project called Gryphon. Several smaller vendors, such as Alerts, Apama and LetMeKnow, offer similar services.

“SQL notification services is very scalable, very clean to do,” said Mike Felix, Hottrends product manager for Townsend Analytics, which develops financial software.

Recently, Felix rolled out SQL notification services for use with Townsend’s Hottrends application, which tracks securities minute by minute and detects when they are behaving in unusual ways, such as number of trades or rate of price change.

Felix takes the Hottrends feed and pumps it into SQL notification services, which matches the data with the users who have subscribed to it and pushes out notifications via e-mail and in the future, mobile devices. “We could have developed something similar ourselves but it would have been programming-intensive, and we didn’t have the resources,” said Felix. “And it would not have been as scalable or clean as what Microsoft has presented.”

He says the project required an investment of a few thousand dollars, a few servers, one developer and less than one month of work. And Hottrends is only the start of Felix’s use of notifications that will likely include newsletters and other financial products, along with use internally on applications such as project management.

“This is a very general-purpose platform in that you can feed almost any event into it and have users subscribe to it,” said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst for server applications for Directions on Microsoft, an analyst firm. “This is different than hard-coded systems where administrators have to set things up. Here, subscribers control what they get.”

The notification service is software with SQL as an engine that can process blocks of events and using batch processing match them to user subscription requests for updates. But corporations must develop their own front-end interface and hooks to enterprise applications and delivery services, such as e-mail or wireless devices.

“Wireless is an enabler here, and when you combine this with something like presence services you can make sure users get their notifications on the device they are currently using,” Pawlak said.

Critics say the addition of such enterprise-wide services built on top of SQL Server is proof the database finally is stepping up from the ranks of departmental server.

“Companies are not as hesitant to use SQL on an enterprise level as they were a few years ago,” says Mark Shaman, a research analyst at Meta Group.

SQL Server 2000 Notification Services is an add-on to SQL Server 2000, but will be a built-in feature in the next generation of the server code-named Yukon.

The software is available now and is a free download from Microsoft, but users must have a SQL Server license to deploy the platform and run notification applications.

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