REVIEWERS: Sandy (Alex K.) Williamson, NAWQA national database team leader, and Nate Booth, NAWQA national database technical leader for the USGS, Water Resources Division.
BACKGROUND: Repeated evaluations of water-quality information have concluded that the United States needs long-term national water-quality assessment to support effective water policy and management. In 1991, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began its National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program to systematically collect chemical, biological and physical water quality data from study units across the nation.
PLATFORMS: Database and applications operate on Dell Servers running NT 4.0; middle-tier Web/application servers run on Linux.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Oracle9iAS Discoverer enables the USGS to analyze large quantities of water-quality data within its data warehouse solution and make it accessible to both internal USGS and external customers with a minimum of development and maintenance effort. Users can access data from nearly 50 study units across the country, collectively representing about 6.5 million records. By maximizing the use of the most current off-the-shelf software and employing both USGS staff and expert consultants to develop the database and associated applications, the project has remained on time and on budget.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The USGS public Web site for the NAWQA data warehouse presents a page-detail parameterized query that displays the sites in the selected counties. Queries are grouped into workbooks and formatted for targeted needs. Data can be published or shared via any Web browser. The flexibility of Oracle9iAS Discoverer allowed the same four queries to be bundled within multiple workbooks, which provides a high level of consistency throughout the query and retrieval process. Discoverer's extendible formatting extends beyond data presentation. Oracle9iAS Discoverer's use of XSL stylesheets enabled us to fully customize the user interface.
STRENGTHS: For internal use, Oracle9iAS Discoverer offers a highly functional yet easy-to-use interface for data selection and manipulation. For our end users, the solution is largely intuitive. Because Oracle9iAS Discoverer is deployed through a Web browser, the ability to keep all USGS users upgraded to the current version of the software is greatly simplified and virtually eliminates the need for systems support for client installs. By placing more of the processing burden on the middle tier, Oracle9iAS Discoverer also allows the USGS to centralize program resources to enhance user query performance. Oracle9iAS Discoverer also allows water quality specialists to develop and modify queries using user parameters and page items that can be directly published to the USGS public Web site with little or no assistance from the technical administrator. Scientists are able to develop queries in tens of minutes that previously took hours by SQL experts or were altogether unattainable.
WEAKNESSES: While the latest version of Oracle9iAS Discoverer is more functional than the previous version, it is not as quick to return certain types of query result sets, such as cross tabs. Additionally, Oracle9iAS Discoverer doesn't provide the ability to save queries outside the database or perform sub-queries, although these features are expected to be included in the next release of the product.
SELECTION CRITERIA: The USGS needed a query and analysis tool that could serve a wide range of customers via an easy-to-use, Web-based solution in order to effectively manage and enable retrievals from its data warehouse. Oracle9iAS Discoverer delivers a highly functional, high performance data retrieval and manipulation tool with the ability to develop public Web queries all with a minimum amount of custom programming.
DELIVERABLES: Oracle9iAS Discoverer provides Web access to the vast quantities of information within the NAWQA data warehouse for internal USGS staff, water professionals at the state, local and national levels, and the general public.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Oracle has provided good support for the product with regard to installation and setup, and Oracle consultants have been helpful in suggesting approaches to enhance the inherent functionality of the product to better suit the specific needs of the NAWQA Program.
DOCUMENTATION: Oracle's installation documentation has improved dramatically over the last year, and the overall install process has been simplified as a result. The documentation is appropriate to the knowledge of experienced Oracle DBAs, though nonOracle- trained administrators may encounter questions that can be readily addressed by Oracle support.
Note: The views and opinions expressed within the preceding review are those of the authors and do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Geological Survey.
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