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It was no walk for in the park for traffic administrator Rich Allen to gather and analyze the traffic patterns and problems for Matanuska Telephone Association of Palmer, Alaska. Actually, he could have taken a walk in the park while he waited for access to reports from his department's antiquated FileMaker database.
Reports that Allen needed to call up many times a day would each take at least five minutes to load. FileMaker was being crushed under the weight of Matanuska's data, Allen said, who does all of the company's traffic monitoring and statistical analysis.
"It ran pretty slow, particularly when doing queries," he explained. "It just couldn't handle the size of data, like the tables that have 80 million rows."
Obviously, an upgrade was in order. Due to budget restrictions, Allen had to bypass proprietary databases like Oracle and IBM DB2. Instead, he evaluated two open source alternatives, MySQL 4 and PostgreSQL.
Allen downloaded the free versions of both databases and found MySQL 4 easier to use than PostgreSQL.
"It was easier getting MySQL set up, installed and running it on a number of different boxes," he said. "Replication was easier to set up than in PostgreSQL, too."
First, Allen began using MySQL as the database for a logging and traffic data analysis application that he built in Perl. (MySQL, Perl, Linux and Apache are the cornerstones of this traffic and reporting system.) Then, he put MySQL to work with 12 other applications, mostly Web lookup applications where he had been storing information on a variety of different devices. With MySQL, getting information from these applications takes seconds instead of minutes, he said.
Allen has taken advantage of MySQL's cross-platform capabilities, using it on Apple OS10 and Linux.
"I used it on Apple first, and then put it on Linux as an experiment," he said. "MySQL runs well on both platforms, operating exactly the same."
But there are some minor differences in using MySQL on different platforms.
"Some things, like config files, are in different locations," Allen said. "By default, MySQL puts its data files in different locations in Linux than on OS10."
Currently, the traffic monitoring department of Matanuska is running MySQL 4 on seven servers, four of which are running Linux. The success of his Linux experiment led Allen to extend Matanuska's usage of that operating system.
"The overall cost of using Linux is less, as the equipment is a little cheaper, and the software is free," he said.
News of Allen's success with MySQL has spread to other departments within Matanuska. As a result, the company has chosen Allied Telesyn's DTV, which uses MySQL for its network management system database. DTV enables Matanuska to deliver telephone, Internet and television over one line.
Allen plans to move up to MySQL 5 fairly quickly after it's released this year. By using the latest version, he'll get new features and quicker, better answers from others on the MySQL technical mailing list. That list is his primary source of support for the free version of MySQL he's running, and it's been all he's needed.
"From the mailing list, I've gotten help with running particular queries, like when I have to join a number of tables together, or set up variables for memory usage," Allen said. "I get answers within a day, and sometimes faster."