To use FileMaker Pro or not? I need some help with this decision.
To use FileMaker Pro or not? I need some help with this decision. I am going to paste an argument against FileMaker Pro that has been submitted to me by an employee. We have purchased FileMaker Pro 11 and are ready to start training and implementation of this data base. Can anyone explain or debunk these concerns? Please see e-mail message below. Thank you.
The open-source, industry-standard, widely-used database platform MySQL offers a superior solution to the current platform we are attempting to implement for our database, FileMaker Pro. MySQL is used on “more than 20% of database installations worldwide” (http://community.nasdaq.com/News/2011-01/mysql-adds-little-to-oracles-stock-price-or-database-market-share.aspx?storyid=52283) and is incorporated into the “LAMP” (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) development and hosting environment, which is supported by many low-cost external web hosting services and easily implemented on low-cost internal hosting platforms. External hosting solutions for high-volume data (which would likely suit our needs) have become extremely affordable in recent years with unlimited data storage and bandwidth priced at around $5.95 per month (http://webhostinggeeks.com/bestphphosting.html). Filemaker Pro currently offers a few solutions to facilitate web publishing, including one of which exports to PHP, but specifically warns that it “is not for production systems” (http://www.filemaker.com/support/technologies/php.html). FileMaker will import data from a MySQL database, but offers no feature to export data to the same database and requires that this data be imported manually from the MySQL database each time the data is modified. This solution obviously would not be practical for a database in production use.
The LAMP environment would allow us to implement far more feature than Filemaker Pro offers, including a literally unlimited choice of user interfaces. PHP (the scripting language implemented in the development and hosting environment), HTML (the existing web standard), and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets, the underlying design element that gives many HTML pages their appearance while minimizing redundant coding which can be further employed to include design elements such as animation and page division) may be combined to create dialog boxes, drop-down menus, tabs, and nearly any other input element. These elements will then respond with output in nearly any format using server-side processing via the same elements. This degree of customization will negate the need for end-user training as the interface design can be greatly simplified compared with FileMaker's while offering the same or greater functionality.
The ability to directly (and immediately) publish content to the world wide web is perhaps the most important reason to implement the septic permit database in MySQL. A large amount of personnel time would be immediately saved by the relatively simple task of digitizing existing permits and attaching these files to our existing database. Attaching scanned files in MySQL is easy—it consists of adding an additional column to a table and adding values to this column as the files are stored. New permits would then also be easy to add to the existing database with any web browser via a secured interface using session-based authentication and an SSL (Secured Sockets Layer) connection (to prevent interception of the session data). Session-based authentication is the method of security currently employed in nearly all online banking and shopping sites (it stores authentication data in an encrypted session cookie for a fixed period of time on the end-user's browser and authenticates this data every time that a protected page is accessed to verify identity) and would easily protect any portion of the site desired from outside access. The rest of the site would provide a searchable database of existing permits (incorporating data from the County Assessor's office with permission), eliminating the need for a large number of phone calls and visits to the office and the resulting facsimile and mail delivery of our existing permits. The addition of a form to this database to facilitate online application for a new septic permit (with the existing secure connection used for our session-based authentication) would also be quite simple should we choose to implement it (and would only require an additional investment in an externally verified SSL certificate). SSL can be implemented internally without the extra cost of a certificate verified by an external authority—the data will still be encrypted during transport and the end-user will simply need to add a security exception to their browser.
The scalability and cost of such a system are also advantages which cannot be ignored. Existing Environmental Services databases implemented in proprietary platforms could easily be implemented in MySQL, and (with a future move to internal hosting and the resulting significant capital investment) the same platform could be even utilized with additional security measures to digitize health records thus creating a reliable single-platform data management system for the entire Health Department based entirely upon free software. MySQL and all of the other components of the LAMP environment are indeed free for unlimited use under the terms of the GPL (GNU Public License). This means the the only short-term investment required would be in any external hosting required (noted above) . MySQL can be implemented on an unlimited number of systems for free and accessed from any system for free with or without authentication. The license we currently have for Filemaker Pro limits us to access from two computers in the office—accessing it from the field or remotely is impossible and it cannot even be accessed from other machines within the office (with the license provided to us).
MySQL also offers the advantage of reliability. If hosted externally, a MySQL database will be backed up frequently and stored on a large RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) array—our data will never be lost. If hosted internally, we can implement this same RAID technology and back up our data easily (MySQL's default database engine, InnoDB, stores databases in three files which are easy to access with high security privileges on a server and back up to external media). The current FileMaker Pro solution stores our data on a single Windows-based PC which is much more likely to suffer file system failure resulting in the loss of our data.
MySQL is simply a better solution both in the long and short-term to both store and access our septic permits than FileMaker Pro. MySQL offers more long-term support because it is more widely implemented. It is capable (through the LAMP development and hosting environment) of supporting a more robust more customizable, user-friendly interface. MySQL will immediately publish our content to the world wide web—the LAMP environment is one of the most widely available and least expensive solutions for both internal and external hosting of web sites that incorporate significant amounts of data in databases. MySQL is remarkably scalable and would offer a direct path to incorporate other data from both inside of Environmental Services and from other divisions of the Health Department should we choose to do so in the future. The use of either external hosting or (in the future) a carefully-built internal hosting system would provide better data reliability. The only disadvantage is the need to find a qualified, experienced LAMP developer. Fortunately, you have a LAMP developer with nearly ten years experience under contract.