Case study : CopyCat in the University of Saskatchewan !

Bruce Eglington, from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, has provided the case study below, showing how they have been able to put our CopyCat Developer Tools to use for their needs :

Geochronology, Isotope Geochemistry, Lithostratigraphy, Ore Deposit and Large Igneous Province Databases for the Academic and Mineral Exploration Industry

Saskatchewan Isotope Laboratory, University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Project presentation

Two online databases provide linked information to the earth science community, relevant to the study of early Earth history. One database (DateView) contains geochronology and isotope geochemical records while the other (StratDB) contains information on lithostratigraphic units, ore deposits and large igneous provinces. Both databases were developed, in part, to support the objectives of project IGCP 509, a five-year project run under the auspices of the International Geodynamics Programme. At this stage the DateView database contains in excess of 107,000 summary records and is the only global geochronology database known. StratDB is also unique, containing information for about 15,000 lithostratigraphic units, 16,000 ore deposits and several thousand large igneous province occurrences. Users are situated on six continents.

Technical description

The database engine used is Firebird 2.5 with all user interface programming in Delphi (currently version XE2) and Intraweb. Use of Intraweb substantially reduced the time and effort required to achieve an online user interface which easily permits user access to be controlled via access permission control in another Firebird database, while also keeping track of state when users insert or modify database contents. Graphing in the web interface to the databases is provided using TeeChart componants from Steema Software. Flexcel, from TMS Software, has been used as a component to create Excel spreadsheet versions of query results when users wish to download views of the data in the databases or to create specific offline representations of their selected data. Both databases have a number of tables with information that should logically be common to both. Ensuring that these tables and fields remained synchronised while still maintaining two separate physical databases was a challenge which was effectively achieved using Microtec’s CopyCat Developer replication engine. Any new or modified records in tables needed in both databases are always updated in the ‘master’ database and then automatically replicated to the other database as part of the record’s update event. In addition, both databases are also replicated to a backup computer so as to ensure that up-to-date versions of the databases are available in case the primary host server fails. In some cases it is also necessary to replicate data to servers which contain only region- or user-specific data. CopyCat has allowed us to achieve this without any drastic redesign of the database or rewriting of the interface software. Some individual users have personal, local versions of both StratDB and DateView for experimenting with unpublished or confidential data . A solution was also required to facilitate local replication in these cases. Replication details for the databases are stored in a table within the ‘master’ database, including computer names, URL’s, etc for both source and target databases. When information is changed in any of the tables requiring replication, these details are accessed and the appropriate replication occurs.Initially, a similar program to Microtec’s CopyTiger program (now CopyCat Standalone) was developed. This worked well but required the program to automatically check for updates to fields very frequently so as to appear transparent to users. The alternative approach implemented has been much more effective since replication is forced only when changes are known to have been made.

Quality of support

The development team in Saskatoon, Canada, is very small (just one geologist with prgramming skills), so the use of programming components with good online support is essential. Peer-support within the Delphi community is always good while support from the developers of CopyCat, Intraweb, TeeChart and Flexcel can only be described as exceptional! These components have all been used for many years now and staff from all of the companies have consistently gone out of their way to understand and solve any issues raised or to suggest and explain better ways to achieve programming objectives. The user interfaces for DateView and StratDB would certainly not be where it they are today if it were not for these excellent components and company support.

Conclusion

Rapid, fexible development of the DateView and StratDB databases and the replication of shared information between them was easily achieved using the CopyCat replication engine. This has allowed development to concentrate on the geological aspects of information presentation and processing, rather than the infrastructure behind the systems.

Contact information

For more information on the databases or for contact links, visit the database website at http://sil.usask.ca/databases.htm

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