Moving the Boundaries
Over the past 10 years Bayer BioScience has seen constant expansion
from a once small-scale operation to today’s multinational environment.
During this evolution Sybase’s database platforms and development tools
have proved their versatility, flexibility and considerable
scalability. Bayer BioScience is still constantly moving the boundaries
and is now delivering critical database applications in the field. With
Sybase iAnywhere technology, observations are no longer recorded using
pen and paper but are input directly into a local copy of the database.
As a result, researchers’ efficiency is enhanced while the likelihood
of errors and inconsistencies is substantially reduced.
Consistent, Flexible and Scalable
The former university research laboratory, which has built up unique,
worldwide expertise in improving seed, plant and biological materials,
has been taken over by large international organizations no fewer than
three times in the past 10 years. With each of these transitions, Bayer
BioSciences central IT applications were suddenly linked to those of an
international group with numerous users and sites in several countries.
This created a challenge to manage data across mixed environments and
more complex infrastructures. The IT team needed the right solution to
address each new adaptation
“Scalability was one of the key reasons why we initially opted for
Sybase,” said Pierre Lens, BioData Platform Manager at Bayer
BioScience. The data model developed at Plant Genetic Systems is still
largely intact – albeit with a great deal of additional data. Later,
the company opted for PowerBuilder, and shortly after, PowerDesigner,
to develop its front-end applications. This decision is still paying
off, as the latest generation of mobile front-end applications was
rewritten in record time. “What took us ten working days to develop in
Visual Basic, I rewrote in PocketBuilder in one day,” confirms Lens.
The key driver for mobile database applications at Bayer BioScience is
ensuring consistent data input. It is crucial to know the detailed
background of seeds and plants used in experiments. Thanks to the
BioData platform a mass of data is recorded, stored, and made available
for interpretation in the field. The quality of data input is monitored
via convenient drop-down menus. This access to detailed data on the
experiments and materials requirements is critical when applying for
patents and demonstrating ‘prior art.’
Mobility Meets Data Quality
The latest generation of the BioData platform links dozens of user
applications in 26 locations worldwide. This is achieved through a
three-part structure: the central database (Adaptive Server
Enterprise), the local database servers and the mobile database (both
SQL Anywhere). An “always available” architecture was deliberately
chosen because in some situations a permanent connection between the
different servers cannot be guaranteed and to ensure absolute data
A copy of the data set required for each experiment is stored locally
and the scientists can work on this at any time — in the laboratory, in
the greenhouses or anywhere in the field. The Sybase solution ensures
seamless synchronization and extensive consistency checks, which
monitor the purity of the data. “We didn’t opt for a real-time
solution, based on wireless LAN for example, because of the extensive
monitoring of data we require at the database interface,” says Lens.
The mobile solution is equipped with a barcode scanner for fast,
accurate identification of plants. The data set for each experiment is
set up by the scientists themselves: they select the columns and fields
to be used from a list. “The entire environment is dynamically
conceived. Nothing is hard-coded,” stresses Lens. However, he
continues, the front-end input screens are only the tip of the iceberg.
“The supervision of data exchanged with the back-end is where Sybase
makes a real difference.”
Evolution, integration and performance
Due to its dynamic multinational operating environment, Bayer
BioScience needs a flexible IT infrastructure. Other parts of the Bayer
group use different platforms and needs change continuously. “It’s
vitally important to anticipate change. We don’t always have to stick
with Sybase; the important thing is the openness and the modular
structure of our environment, allowing us to link up easily with other
platforms,” stresses Lens. In short, the IT group could have their pick
of technology solutions. Nevertheless, Sybase remains the preferred
platform: “According to our own internal testing, Sybase is offering a
30-40% performance benefit over competing vendors on the same platform.
Speed is still the prime demand made by our users,” says Lens.
Performance is an extra challenge for some highly complex search tasks
that may link data from tens of tables, and for this, Bayer BioScience
uses Sybase IQ. “We make a copy of the relational database in Sybase IQ
for specific search tasks. Sybase IQ allows us to reduce the processing
of highly complex queries from around 20 minutes to less than 20
seconds,” concludes Lens.