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Oracle's free database powers geospatial apps maker

Oracle's free Database 10g Express Edition is helping Farallon Geographics create highly graphical logistics systems that combine maps with analytics.

Oracle's Farallon Geographics works with highly customizable applications known as geographic information systems (GISs) that mix global positioning system (GPS) location data with maps and analytics technology. The result is systems that can, for example, guide a police officer safely and quickly to an emergency scene, help a utility worker plan a daily repair route, or give a prospective home buyer a three-dimensional representation of flood zones in a particular area.

The key is effectively integrating geospatial data with line-of-business IT systems, and Oracle Database XE, a slimmed down, free version of Oracle Database XE is unique among free database management systems (DBMSs) in that it can store map features such as lines, polygons, grids and aerial photographs directly in the kernel, Wuthrich said. Oracle Database XE is also capable of actually processing spatial data to tell users, for example, how many stores there are within a certain distance, or the best route from one address to another.

"Then, at the application server level, Oracle has an API that looks very much like Virtual Earth and Google Maps," Wuthrich explained. "So it's capable of processing maps in a very fast and very scalable manner."

Oracle Database XE stores the geospatial data in an open format so that any outside GPS system can use it, he added, and it can feed data directly into increasingly popular enterprise mash-ups -- Web pages or applications that combine elements from multiple sources such as maps and photographs.

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Why not Microsoft SQL Server?

Farallon works with all sorts of databases, depending on its customers' needs. But in one recent case it found itself recommending Oracle Database XE to a client over Microsoft SQL Server.

Farallon was hired by the Town of Woodside, Calif. to manage maps within a system. When the company proposed that the town, which already licensed Microsoft SQL server, run the map-management system on Oracle Database XE, town officials wanted to know why.

Wuthrich told them that they should go with Oracle anyway because of the low cost and the speed with which the database can serve up map-related data.

"Oracle provides something for free that you can't do at any price in [Microsoft SQL Server], and that is to store these very special kinds of map-based data sets and then operate against them with just pure SQL," he said. "To do this with SQL would really require an investment of another, say, $5,000 to $10,000."

A growing business

Business at his 12-person-strong company is good, Wuthrich says, and it's being driven by increased awareness of the effectiveness of GIS in increasing productivity and the popularity of mash-ups and Google Earth.

"[Oracle Database XE's map-related capabilities] might seem a bit specialized," he said, "but I think -- with the recognition of things like mash-ups as being a really intriguing way to present information -- that this sort of stuff is becoming much more common and much more relevant."

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