REVIEWER: Andre Alguero, director of engineering for GRX Technologies.

BACKGROUND: GRX is the leader in solutions powering risk and insurance professionals. Risk managers, insurance brokers and underwriters use GRX software to reduce administration costs and streamline risk placement. Our technology allows industry professionals to store and manage risk-related data, digitize the risk-finance process and share knowledge conveniently via online workrooms.

PLATFORMS: We are using eXcelon's eXtensible Information Server on the Windows 2000 platform.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The challenge GRX faced in developing its GRX Risk Platform was collecting, storing and transferring risk data in such a way that its complex and rich structure could be maintained, processed and mined over time. The GRX Risk Platform uses XML as the centerpiece of its data strategy. By storing data within eXcelon's eXtensible Information Server (XIS) XML database, the application can exploit this meaningful structure at all times, even after it is written to disk. This strategy facilitates a number of key features in the GRX technology including the ability to easily transform the XML via XSLT into many alternate formats, allowing for custom display and integration with third-party systems.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We utilize the full breadth of features that XIS has to offer. In particular, the node-level management aspect is critical for accepting arbitrary XML data and allowing us to parse, store and manage it without resorting to storing it as a BLOB. By managing XML at the node level, XIS performs all access, search and update functions in the engine without having to lock the entire document.

STRENGTHS: Our storage solution had to easily scale in order to manage up to millions of XML documents and allow for fast retrieval of data. XIS increases the performance of data inquiries in the GRX Risk Platform by storing data in its native XML format, thereby enabling us to store information on the platform without having to convert it. Additionally, the XIS tools are an added bonus for developers, creating a consistent development environment which ultimately decreases time to market and increases the quality of the product. Bottom line, XIS allowed us to increase our user base by a factor of ten while maintaining a response time of less than five seconds.

WEAKNESSES: From our perspective, the backup management features of XIS are adequate, but could be enhanced further. Also, when using Java extensions, it is necessary to share the Java virtual machine across all instances, which requires some advance planning. Fortunately, both of these issues can be mitigated with forethought and sufficient planning.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Because of our unique scalability demands, a native XML database was the most logical choice. A file system did not provide the required retrieval mechanisms. Relational storage systems did not meet the requirements, particularly around incremental updates, node-level management and scalability. Creating variable data for a relational structure required significant data mapping code and maintenance ­ a level of effort that was far too rigid, impractical and costly to construct. eXcelon's reputation as a leader in the native XML database industry, as well as XIS' ability to provide the high level of data throughput and node-level management that was needed to drive the solution, made eXcelon the obvious choice.

DELIVERABLES: By integrating XIS into the GRX Risk Platform, data is instantly available for simple browsing, comparison, reporting, integration with existing systems and transformation to data standards. The flexibility of data schemas allows our customers to continually refine their current business and quickly extend their business to new markets.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Support for the product has been provided primarily via e-mail, with response generally received within 24 hours for development questions.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation provided is largely adequate, although suggestions about best-practice techniques have come from direct contact with the vendor or through word of mouth rather than from the documentation.

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