8 Replies Latest reply on Jul 21, 2009 7:13 AM by mrvodka

    Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)

    smallfish

      Title

      Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)

      Post

      I have used FM6 a few years ago with it's custom web publishing features on an OS X machine and have not worked with FM since version 6 ever after this project and therefore, I need to evaluate if my current project can be accomplished with FM.

      My current client has the following setting:
      A main office and several dealership locations. The business is car repair. A solution is needed where each dealership location can, on a daily basis, submit it's work, so the main office can collect it and generate a daily, weekly or monthly invoice based on the submitted data.

      The data itself is really simple - some list with pre-defined values (e.g. what work has been done) and some text values with explanation. The main problem is the non-permanent internet connection. This means, the dealership locations should be able to fill out the form for each car repaired even if there currently is no internet connection available. A second requirement is, that the dealership locations should only be able to either create a new data set or edit it if it's not older than ~12 hours (exact value has to be estimated over time).

      So far I have evaluated the following solutions:
      1. FM Pro 10 Advanced - Runtime Maker
      A Runtime could be created, installed on each dealership machine and data entered. Does not work because these runtimes lack network functionality at all.

      2. FM Pro 10 Instant Web Publishing
      As far as I know this solution requires a permanent internet connection.

      3. FM Pro 10 Server Advanced Custom Web Publishing
      Same problem as with the second solution if I'm not mistaken. Besides, the software itself as well as the work needed to be done is much higher than in 1 and 2 and may exceed the budget of my client.

      4. FM Pro 10 installed on each dealership machine and synchronizing from the main office
      First problem is that every additional dealership location opened in the future would need an additional FM Pro 10 licence. Besides, the local datases would have to be emailed and imported at the office, which is not automated enough. Additionally, every change on the value lists would need the local installations to be upgraded with the new database, which would be a real problem since the dealership locations are absolute non-technicians.

      I thought about Solution #4 with providing a daily or weekly set of databases for the dealership locations, having a single database file for every single day, but it's not an ideal solution to me.

      So, is there something I have overlooked? Another approach maybe, or some functionality that is not directly visible from the documentation I have read through so far? Or have I made a mistake on any of the provided solutions?

      Or is it generally not possible to achieve this setting without a permanent Internet connection?

      Thank you for your time













        • 1. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
          comment_1
             I understand a dealership can repair a car and submit a report about it to the main office - but what information (if any) needs to flow from the main office to a dealership?
          • 2. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
            smallfish
               Thank you for your fast response.


            comment wrote:
            I understand a dealership can repair a car and submit a report about it to the main office - but what information (if any) needs to flow from the main office to a dealership?


            There is no information flow from the main office to any dealership, except if some of the list values must be updated (new services added for example). But the only thing that the main office returns to the dealership is the invoice data, which is a PDF or maybe a conventional post mail.

            Right now I have read something about the two-way External SQL Data Source connection. If I understand the overview right, each client could store their report data on a local MySQL DB (over a php web form or something similar) and send the report data each time the internet connection becomes available, provided the FM Pro 10 Installation at the main office is running permanently.

            Or is this solution not usable for my setting?




            • 3. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
              comment_1
                 I don't see why you couldn't use runtimes at the dealerships, and either mail the data to the main office or export it to a known location.

              The value lists issue could be handled quite simply by importing, from time to time, an updated list of values into a table - this could be scripted.

              See also:
              http://fmforums.com/forum/showtopic.php?tid/199474/
              http://fmforums.com/forum/showtopic.php?tid/200462/


              • 4. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
                smallfish
                   Thank you for your input and the two links.


                comment wrote:
                I don't see why you couldn't use runtimes at the dealerships, and either mail the data to the main office or export it to a known location.

                I'll look further into these solutions. The main problem with this is that it's an indirect solution and requires exporting and importing techniques instead of directly uploading the data, which would be the ideal solution.


                comment wrote:
                The value lists issue could be handled quite simply by importing, from time to time, an updated list of values into a table - this could be scripted.


                Well, I already thought that this would be the lesser problem. Thanks for the hint on this one.

                A question out of simplicity:
                Would installing an FM Pro copy at the client machines ease the task of just collecting and uploading data once a day? Is FM Pro capable of storing the reports locally and then uploading them, at a later date, directly into the hosted FM database? Sounds like it would make things easier in the end.






                • 5. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
                  comment_1
                    

                  smallfish wrote:
                  The main problem with this is that it's an indirect solution and requires exporting and importing techniques instead of directly uploading the data, which would be the ideal solution.

                  The ideal solution would be to enter all data directly into a single central database. But if the dealerships want to be able to enter data at any time, then this is not possible, and they need to keep local databases. So the real issue is transfering the local data to the central database.

                   

                  Pushing data into a file is not an trivial task in any circumstances; I believe the only way to truly 'upload' data is through ODBC, which is not entirely a 'native' Filemaker function. In a regular network operation, you would call a script in the target file to import the data.


                  • 6. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
                    smallfish
                      

                    comment wrote:

                    smallfish wrote:
                    The main problem with this is that it's an indirect solution and requires exporting and importing techniques instead of directly uploading the data, which would be the ideal solution.

                    The ideal solution would be to enter all data directly into a single central database. But if the dealerships want to be able to enter data at any time, then this is not possible, and they need to keep local databases. So the real issue is transfering the local data to the central database.





                    Exactly, that's the point and the reason I started this post, since this thing has made my head ache. All prior solutions I have developed, no matter on what plattform, had not the requirement to locally cache data.


                    comment wrote:

                    Pushing data into a file is not an trivial task in any circumstances; I believe the only way to truly 'upload' data is through ODBC, which is not entirely a 'native' Filemaker function. In a regular network operation, you would call a script in the target file to import the data.




                    Technically speaking, caching data in a local database and then uploading it afterwards to the central server is the same as entering it directly into the central server, especially in this case where it is assured that the dealerships can't edit each others data sets and even the possibility to edit sets after they have been updated to the central server can be limited if it's neccessary, so that locking is not an issue.

                    This is why I am kind of surprised, that FileMaker itself does not seem to offer the possibility to upload the cached data once the connection to the central database is established.

                    The ODBC- and script-thing you mentioned is something a came across in the documentation almost after the composition of my initial post, where an external data source can be defined (dealerships) and the web compatible "Refresh Window" function will update the data on the central server, which would have be to be triggered by the dealership.

                    This seems like a viable and pretty flexible solution without stressing the users on both sides with too much technicality.

                    Well, I have got lots of new ideas to think about from this thread, thank you very much so far.









                    • 7. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
                      comment_1
                        

                      smallfish wrote:
                      Technically speaking, caching data in a local database and then uploading it afterwards to the central server is the same as entering it directly into the central server

                      Not exactly. In analogy, you can fill a form on a web site - but that doesn't mean you can inject a batch of data into their database.

                      Now, if you had a local copy of Filemaker and a network connection, you could log in to the central file (provided it is being served) and then do an import of your local database.


                      • 8. Re: Using FM over a non-permanent Internet connection (one office, several clients)
                        mrvodka
                           Just to add to what was discussed, using an timed FTP process may help as well.