Abstract

Advances of the "information age" have made vast quantities of technical information available through electronic media. Technical problem solving often involves transfer and handling of large blocks of data. For many, an impediment to successful technical data application is not data availability, but data accessibility. An electronically searchable database system was designed to allow access to proprietary environ- mental data by a large number of users located world-wide. Users are linked and data is transferred system-wide via Internet connections. This scheme also provides users with links to an immense and steadily growing number of external information servers.

This paper presents a step-wise approach to establishing a working database system. Included are system design criteria such as types of data desired and number and location of users, data collection techniques, and software applications for data organization. A description of data search engines and search scripts follows, with a discussion of appropriate hardware platforms for data storage and access. Remote data access from many locations via the Internet is discussed. In some cases it is necessary to restrict access to proprietary information. This database system has the capability to keep separate public and proprietary information. The paper addresses data security issues such as access restriction using software and hardware, technology exportation, and the necessity for technology licensing among co-owners.

Introduction

Databases are "collections of data arranged for ease and speed of retrieval, as by computers." Computers generally handle the "ease and speed of retrieval" aspects of databases. Data arrangement, however, can have much to do with how easily and quickly data retrieval proceeds. Data distribution after retrieval is another important consideration of database design.

Any collection of data can be arranged in a database. Once data are collected, a variety of commercial software is available to aid in organizing data in a (usually) tabular format. Commercial software suitable for this purpose may be either database or spreadsheet applications. Making data retrievable, or "searchable," follows. Commercially available search software can be applied to many database and spreadsheet formats. A means of distributing data among users is then necessary.

A currently very popular means of data, and information in general, distribution is the Internet. More than 40 million worldwide users exist, and the number is steadily increasing. These users access information through more than 5 million hosts, on 45,000 networks, in 159 countries. This vast network of computers, the Internet, grows at about ten percent to fIfteen percent per month. Currently something in excess of twenty terabytes (twenty million megabytes) of information is transferred per month via the Internet.

Such a tremendous amount of information would be very unwieldy were it not for a group of software applications and sets of information transfer protocols and conventions. One such group, known as a client/server environment, is the Worldwide Web (WWW) The WWW is based on hyptext and hypermedia technology and allows "point and click" access to most of the Internet's resources. WWW server software is commercially available for most hardware and operating systems, including UNIX, Macintosh, and DOS/Windows. Use of readily available client/server products thus allows virtually unlimited information transfer without regard to numbers of users or their locations.

Planning and Data Collection

It is usually advantageous to carefully consider how a data-base will be used before data collection begins. In general, any data that can be arranged in tabular format can be searched and transferred by methods described herein.

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