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Straight Talk

Everything you wanted to know about IERS, from its position in the world of next-generation databases to its design goals, architecture, and prominent use cases.

I recently got the chance to talk to Atsushi Kitazawa, chief engineer at NEC Corporation, about the company’s new InfoFrame Elastic Relational Store (IERS) database.    I enjoyed the discussion with Kitazawa-san immensely – he has an ability to seamlessly flow from a deep technical point to a higher-level business point that made our talk especially informative.

Matt Sarrel (MS): Where did the idea for IERS come from?

Atsushi Kitazawa (AK): We decided to build IERS on top of NEC's micro-sharding technology in 2011. The reason is that all of the cloud players see scalability and consistency as major features and we wanted to build a product with both. Google published the Google File System implementation in 2003 and then they published Bigtable (KVS) in 2006. Amazon also published Amazon Dynamo (KVS) in 2007. NEC published our CloudDB vision paper in 2009, which helped us to establish the architecture of a key value store under the database umbrella. In 2011, Facebook published improved performance of Apache Hadoop and Google published the method of transaction processing on top of BigTable called Megastore BigTable. Those players looked at scalability and then consistency. By 2011 they had both.

A KVS is well-suited for building a scalable system. The performance has to be predictable under increasing and changing workloads. At the beginning, all the cloud players were using replication in order to increase performance, but they hit some walls because of the unpredictability of caching. You cannot cache everything. So they moved to a caching and sharding architecture so you can partition data to multiple servers in order to increase caching in memory. And then the problem here is that it is not so easy to shard a database in a consistent manner. This is the problem of deep partitioning. You can see the partitioning or sharding in the beginning—it is not so difficult--but dynamic partitioning and sharding is very difficult. The end goal of many projects was to provide a distributed KVS. The requirement of a KVS is predictability of performance under whatever workload we have.

MS:  Why is a KVS is better? 

AK: The most important thing about a KVS is that we can move part of the data from one node to another in order to balance performance. Typically, the implementation of a KVS relies on small partitions that can be moved between nodes. This is very difficult when you consider all of the nodes included in a relational database or any database for that matter. In a KVS, everything is built on the key value so we can track where data resides.

Going back to the evolution of database products, Facebook developed Cassandra on its own because it needed it. It had to move part of the application from Cassandra to HBase but had to improve HBase first. Facebook reported in a paper the reason why it had to use HBase is that it need consistency in order to implement its messaging application. The messaging application, made available in 2011, enabled users to manage a single inbox for various messages including chats and Tweets. This totals 15 billion messages from 350 million members every month and 120 billion chats between 300 million members. Then Facebook wanted to add consistency on top of performance because of the increased number of messages delivered.

On the other hand, Google added a transactional layer on top of its BigTable KVS. It did this for the app engine that is used by many users concurrently. The transactional layer allowed users to write their application code.  Google also developed Caffeine for near-real-time index processing and HRD (High Replication Datastore) for OLTP systems such as AppEngine to use.

Those are the trends that cloud players illustrated when NEC was deciding to enter this market. At NEC we developed our own proprietary database for mainframe moret han 30 years ago. Incidentally, I was on that team. We didn't extend our reach to Unix or Windows so we didn't have a database product for those platforms. In 2005, we decided to develop our own in-memory database and made it available in Japan. This is TAM or transactional in-memory database. We added the ability to process more queries by adding a columnar database called DataBooster in 2007. Now we have in-memory databases for transactions and queries. In 2010, we successfully released and deployed the in-memory database for a large Japanese customer. As our North America research team released the CloudDB paper, we merged the technologies together to become IERS.

We felt that if we could develop everything on top of a KVS, then it would be scalable. That is a core concept of IERS.

MS:  What were the design goals of IERS?  Could you describe how those goals are met by the system’s architecture?

AK: Regarding our architecture, the transaction nodes implement intelligent logs with in-memory database to facilitate transaction processing. The difference between IERS and most databases is that IERS is a log system machine. IERS does not have any cache (read, dirty, write) and this means we don't have to synchronize cache in the usual manner. We just record all the changes to the transactional server in time order fashion and then synchronize the changes in batches to other data pods over IERS, which are database servers. The result is that the KVS only maintains committed changes.

We do have a cache, but it is a read-only cache, not the typical database cache. The only data the cache maintains is for reads from the query server. We do not need to be concerned with cache coherency. The transaction server itself is an in-memory database. We record every change on the transaction server and we replicate across at least three nodes. The major difference between IERS and other databases is the method of data propagation. Our technology allows the query server, accessible via SQL, to see a consistent view even though we have separate read and write cache. If you do not care much about consistency, then you can rely on the storage server's cache. The storage server consists of the data previously transferred from the transaction server. If you consider the consistency between each record or each table, then you should read from the transaction server so that we maintain the entire consistency of the transaction.

The important point in terms of scalability is that both the KVS (storage) server and the transaction work as if they are KVS storage so we can maintain scalability as if the entire database is a KVS even though we have a transactional logging layer.

From a business point of view, there are users who are using a KVS such as Cassandra, which does not support consistency in a transactional manner. We want to see those users to extend their databases by adding another application. If they want a KVS that supports consistent transactions then we can help them. On the other hand, in Japan we see that some of our customers are trying to move their existing applications from RDBMS to a more scalable environment because of a rapid increase in their incoming traffic. In that case, they have their own SQL applications. Rewriting SQL for a KVS is very difficult if it doesn't support SQL. So we added a SQL layer that allows users to easily migrate existing applications from RDBMS to KVS.

MS: Is there a part of IERS' functionality or architecture that makes it unique?

AK:  From a customer point of view the difference is that IERS provides complete scalability and consistency. The key is the extent that we support the consistency and SQL to make it easier for customers to run their applications. We added a productivity layer on top of a pure scalable database. We can continue to improve the productivity layer. Typically, people have to compromise productivity to get scalability. Simply pursuing scalability isn't so difficult. Application database vendors focus on the productivity layer. Then they add scalability. Our direction is different. We first look at scalability. We built a completely scalable database. Then we added the productivity layer - security support, transactional support - without compromising scalability.

MS: What types of projects is IERS well-suited for?

AK: Messaging is one good application. If you want to store each message in transaction fashion (track if it goes out, if it's read, responded to, etc.) and require scalability, then this is a good application for IERS.

Another case is M2M because it requires scalability and there is usually a dramatic increase over time of the number of devices connected. The customer also has a requirement to maintain each device in transaction fashion. Each device has its own history that must be maintained in a consistent manner.

To learn more about NEC’s IER’S solution visit:  http://goo.gl/TnFkbR

    *Matt Sarrel is a leading tech analyst and writer providing guest content for NEC.


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 There is serious buzz surrounding big data that may make one wonder if it really is all that we hope. Fortunately, there are plenty of scenarios that showcase how big data makes a significant impact in the daily lives of just about everyone. Let’s take a look at a few…

 Competitive Big Data

 NEC Big Data Solutions

   * Photo by infocux Technologies on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Football, or soccer as it’s known in the U.S., is the most popular sport in the world, making the 2014 World Cup one of the most important sporting events of the year. It will be watched by millions as Brazil and Croatia go head to head. Many of those avid fans won’t even stop to think about what is behind their ability to access information regarding the spectacle that is sure to be the World Cup. But it’s a lot of planning and preparation. Think of it this way:

 Joseph and his buddy Sam are in Ireland, betting on the game with their friend Luke, who was lucky enough to attend. They are all posting on social media, gathering statistics on the two teams, the players and the weather. After all, outdoor sports are definitely impacted by weather. The three buddies are able to gather all this information at the “touch of their fingertips” because somewhere, someone thought to gather the information, parse into usable bits and serve it up for anyone to access.

 Let’s review another scenario – professional sports are big, global business. An important aspect of that is recruiting. Just how much data would you have to collect in order to have a player’s stats just to see if he’s worth the money he wants. Now apply that business. There are massive amounts of data we want to harvest. Unfortunately, most of that data is unstructured. Fortunately, there are bigger and better servers to crunch that data into something usable. Couple that with services provided by experts such as the team at NEC, and you can really make big data work for you.

 Speaking of NEC and the FIFA World Cup, the company will provide information and communications technologies to the Arena da Curitiba in Brazil, including security via technologically-advanced monitoring, IP and wireless infrastructure for telephone, as well as sophisticated sound systems, giant screens, lighting and air conditioning. These systems are all fully integrated by NEC, whose know-how in providing integrated solutions for stadiums is supported by projects spanning a variety of countries.

 

 Little Monsters of Big Data

 When we think about big data it conjures up images of large conglomerations churning away at all sorts of analytics in order to build a better mousetrap. But “business” is not necessarily corporate, suit-and-tie, in-office operations. In fact, there are interesting uses for big data cropping up everywhere. Case in point, Lady Gaga’s business manager, Troy Carter, is a big data fan. In fact, he created a fan-centric community called www.littlemonsters.com by mining the singer’s 31 million plus fans on Twitter and 51 million on Facebook.

 

Big Data Bring Back My Internet!

 There you are, rushing around to update your web site with the latest, communicate with your store, and ensure that not only are customers served, but you have plenty of product in stock when BAM! Everything goes dark. No, it’s not the next zombie apocalypse; it’s just another service outage. But, what if, before you even called your service provider company, it knew about the outage. How? Big data. It is the hope of many communications industry leaders that appropriate mining of big data will help manage outages and even disasters. By looking for other patterns when customers begin to notify them of a problem, or even mining social media, it is possible for these providers to become more proactive. This spells fewer outages and more control for the communications companies to provide better service. Not to mention less interruption of your digital life and your bottom line.

 Bottom line – big data impacts just about every company, organization, law enforcement agency and gaming company on the planet. Because gamers are so engaged, being able to mine their data provides interesting information regarding their behaviors. In fact, that is the very business model of Badgeville, which sells gamification technology for measuring and influence user behavior. The truth is the more they know about your behavior, the better companies can fulfill your needs, wants and desires.

 

Big Data Means Finding the Right Partner

The truth about big data is its immense power when in the right hands. This requires major computing power, as well as a partner that can ensure the large amounts of unstructured data are compiled into a meaningful metric. Fortunately, NEC has solutions for your big data needs that fully encompass the requirements to make the most of your big data. You can find more information on NEC's big data solutions here.


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NEC Corporation of America recently announced the general availability in North America of the InfoFrame Elastic Relational Store, a high-performance database built for high availability and flexible scalability.  IERS is a key value store  that provides high-speed transaction processing and SQL (structured query language) capabilities through a JDBC/ODBC interface.  This means that IERS combines a SQL interface with advantages of the  NoSQL databases.

How important is SQL? The Relational DBMS market is built on SQL, with Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server being by far the most implemented RDBMSs. Every computer science major learns SQL; in fact, just about anyone who has anything to do with data learns SQL.  Since the 1980s, SQL has been the standard for manipulating data.

In recent years, we’ve seen the growth in popularity of NoSQL databases.  In many ways, the Internet drove the need for non-relational databases as content management systems outgrew their RDBMS roots and required unprecedented scalability.  NoSQL databases provide virtually infinite scalability as they can grow without bringing the entire cluster down or pushing a complete re-partitioning across all nodes.  They provide fault tolerance and high availability by partitioning and replicating data across nodes and dynamically repairing these nodes as necessary.

This is all well and good, but many NoSQL databases fall short of their RDBMS cousins in that they aren’t built to rapidly process transactions, perform error checking, and maintain data integrity.  Many don’t support SQL, the language on which the vast majority of database architects and users rely.

Even though NoSQL databases are a new development, the envelope is being pushed further by NewSQL databases, including IERS.  NewSQL databases combine the scaling capabilities of NoSQL with the strong transactional and consistency advantages of an RDBMS.  NewSQL databases also use SQL as their primary interface.  The best NewSQL databases preserve the traditional ACID properties of an RDBMS in a high performance and highly scalable manner.  In contrast to NoSQL databases, NewSQL databases are being rapidly adopted by enterprises that need high performance and transactional consistency in a horizontally scaling environment that supports SQL.

IERS is designed to meet the transactional needs of mission critical databases.  IERS uses a three-layer architecture where each layer can scale outor independently without downtime and also runs in-memory processing and replication for high performanceand high availability. IERS contains powerful security functions such as user authentication and access privileges comparable to those found in RDBMSs.  The system can be accessed via a SQL interface which makes application development and data migration easier for enterprises than NoSQL systems.

  

There are many advantages to using IERS.  Look for future blog postings on NECtoday.com and TopTechDog.com for discussions on  the technical advantages of IERS, different use cases for IERS, case studies about IERS and more information about how NewSQL can best be put to use in your environment.

    *Matt Sarrel is a leading tech analyst and writer providing guest content for NEC.


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The primary objective of any healthcare provider is to focus on the patient. Whether it's a private practice or a large medical conglomeration, the healthcare system needs improved patient communication in order to ensure positive patient experiences. It was this idea of innovating patient communication that inspired JPS Health Network to evaluate its communication infrastructure and consider a move toward more advanced methods.

The network’s flagship facility is JPS Hospital (JPS) in Fort Worth, the only Level-I trauma facility in the county. JPS provides a comprehensive range of treatment for all aspects of injury, making reliable communication critical.

"We are required to have specialized teams, facilities, and equipment available 24/7 to treat life-threatening injuries,” said David Mendenhall, chief technology officer of the JPS Health Network. “Unreliable communications technology means surgeons don’t have lab reports, test results, and other information they need. We simply cannot risk our patients’ health that way."

TRAUMA CENTERS REQUIRE RAPID COMMUNICATION TOOLS

JPS already had a platform in place, but wanted to update to a new, IP-based platform to accommodate the constant movement of teams and people. Having IP telephony would provide that mobile flexibility as well as accommodate improved communications with remote clinics. In addition, a new platform would reduce costs by reducing the number of T-1 lines required, a significant savings for the hospital.

With approximately 70 different contact-center queues across the entire JPS healthcare system, achieving rapid patient access was an important goal. These teams cover multiple functions, including appointment scheduling, pharmacy, and billing. Ensuring patients had better access would improve existing service levels and the overall patient experience.

However, as a county facility, making changes and getting approval for budget and implementation are not easy tasks. Plus, the logistics of this type of installation create concerns. JPS is the only Level-I Trauma Center east of Lubbock, a span of 325 miles. This hospital cannot afford to have hiccups in communication or excessive downtime for technology implementation.

JPS also had to ensure that internal hospital communications were not impacted. One of the hospital’s key responsibilities is to get laboratory and cardiac reports to the emergency room. On the other hand are simpler functions, such as ensuring patients can contact family members as desired.

THE RIGHT PLATFORM EQUALS POSITIVE BENEFITS FOR ALL

JPS already had a relationship with NEC, so looking to the newer, IP-based systems offered was a logical step. After review, JPS chose the NEC UNIVERGE SV8500, an IP-based communications platform that supports the latest voice, unified communications, and mobility applications.

"Our decision to go with NEC was a very easy one,” said Mendenhall. “NEC’s platform offers a robust set of features at a price point that county hospitals like JPS can afford."

The benefits went beyond affordability. The migration was very smooth, and the installation only took 46 minutes without disruption to end-users. The new platform provides redundancy, so, in the event of a T-1 failure, there is an automatic shift to the SV8500, ensuring constant communication for patients.

The benefit of innovation can be seen across the hospital. Licensing, upgrades, and maintenance are easier. People can be moved, work remotely, and access information much more quickly. Call routing is much more advanced, making more efficient use of call centers, and help desk staff can work remotely just as efficiently as onsite. By allowing them to work from home, JPS can now use valuable real estate within hospitals and clinics more effectively to provide patient care while keeping high levels of support via the help desk.

"JPS was very forward thinking to consider the value of its communications infrastructure in the workflow of a business. Oftentimes, new technologies are perceived as an expense, and hospitals, particularly public hospitals, do not typically have extra money to spend," said Larry Levenberg, vice president of sales and marketing for NEC Corporation of America. "However, JPS showcases how value can be received by using innovation to improve communication and still utilize existing infrastructure when possible."

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?

In today’s healthcare environment, text reminders can be sent to smart devices, voicemails left as requested, and even heart monitoring is now available via tablets. The patient experience has been significantly improved by ensuring consistent and constant communication.

Having the IP-based platform means JPS will be able to communicate with patients through their preferred methods. In addition, the ability to more effectively manage remote clinics and staff has made a significant impact on the efficiency of the healthcare group.

"One of the statistics we just reported to our board was that we’ve taken the average speed of answer from nine minutes down to one minute after we got the NEC platform in place in all our community centers,” said Mendenhall.

"This is just the beginning. What is most exciting about this is that moving forward, JPS has laid the groundwork to add new solutions to help improve the patient experience and drive better outcomes.  Without this new communications solution, that would not be possible," said Levenberg.

The migration moves the hospital closer to its long-term goal of becoming 100% IP within the next five years. "Before our upgrade, we were maybe only 5% IP," added Mendenhall. "Right now, we’re about 20%, which is a big jump from where we were." The hospital also has plans to move all its community health centers to the SV8500 platform over the next three years.

As patients become more technologically savvy and focused on mobile device use, healthcare organizations will be expected to continually improve communications and access to critical information. Patients will expect to have more information delivered rapidly to their preferred devices. The days of using just a telephone have passed, but the future holds exciting innovation for healthcare. NEC is proud to be a part of that innovation and has technology that can improve patient experience available today. You can learn more here.


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In case you missed it, NEC announced on October 7 the general availability of their integrated compute and network orchestration solution for Microsoft Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager customers. The streamlined infrastructure solution, with a REST-based northbound interface to applications from the ProgrammableFlow Software-defined Network and the integration with Virtual Machine Manager, enables application-aware networking and unprecedented levels of control and flexibility.

Mike Schutz, General Manager of Microsoft Product Marketing for the Server and Tools Group, talks about the collaboration between these strategic partners and the benefits customers can expect in a new video entitled NEC and Microsoft: Delivering Open, Standards-based SDN for Cloud. NEC is looking forward to demonstrating the technology at Microsoft TechEd May 12-15 in Houston, TX.

As a re-cap, here are key benefits customers can expect from this award-winning SDN solution:

  • Radically speeds network provisioning and configuration
  • Control data center traffic flow on a granular level, including dynamic, supplication-centric security policy for reduced OpEx and CapEx
  • Apply business policy consistently and automatically across the compute and network infrastructure for greater responsiveness to the business
  • Increase network visibility for greater manageability and accelerated troubleshooting
  • Enable isolated, secure multi-tenant networks for private clouds to meet compliance and service level goals
  • Improve throughput with the server and across the network fabric
  • Reduce power and footprint over traditional networks, with savings up to 80%
  • Scales to thousands of virtual networks, and hundreds of thousands of VMs
  • Provide an open, standards-based architecture for investment protection
  • Add, move or change virtual and physical networks in seconds from Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, shaving days or weeks from traditional deployment models

For more information, go to necam.com/sdn, or customers can contact either NEC or their Microsoft reseller for further information.


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