Sybase invests $25M in Wi-Fi application development

Sybase Inc. plans to invest US$25 million over the next year to make using public wireless LAN networks more cost-effective and reliable for accessing enterprise applications, it announced Tuesday.

Public wireless networks using 802.11 or Wi-Fi technology, though a boon to the mobile worker, are problematic, as access points are still few and far between and continuous use of the wireless network will soon drain the batteries of portable devices, according to Brian Vink, vice president of marketing at Sybase subsidiary iAnywhere Solutions. Roaming among access points, which can involve changing IP addresses, can also cause difficulties for the novice user, he said.

Sybase will invest some of that $25 million in building a network of competency centers for Wi-Fi research, the first of which will be hosted at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario. The company also intends to collaborate with its software development partners to embed Sybase technology in their applications for mobile devices.

Vink highlighted three areas of concern for this software development effort: application persistence over different network connections; network security, and local caching of data.

Roaming from one wireless access point to another will usually result in the mobile device being given a new IP (Internet Protocol) address for each network; servers need to be able to locate the device at its new address and maintain the connection and application state through that change. That requires special attention to the software on both client and server, he said.

Support for the forthcoming Wi-Fi Protected Access security standards will be rolled into Sybase software as they are ratified, Vink said.

Although Sybase can't do anything about the battery capacity of the average laptop, there are software tricks, such as caching server data on the client, that can make better use of that energy and simplify roaming, he said. "The main thing we provide is this always-available architecture," he said. This draws application data from a local cache when there is no network connection and synchronizes it automatically with the server when a connection is available. That means the wireless connection does not need to be turned on the whole time.

Vink expects the software developed in this program to be used with enterprise applications from the likes of Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp.

"We would support enterprise databases from them, but the software that supports the mobility is ours. I would see us as part of the plumbing that allows the software to be deployed in a remote environment," he said.

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