Agents serve LAN clients on the road

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 1995, 12:00am

THE era of wireless computing only began to dawn in recent years and with it came many hopes and unfulfilled dreams.

Foremost among those dreams was the promise of computing anywhere at anytime - connecting to corporate networks, public information services and like from any place on the globe.

Essentially, people began to dream of true client-server computing without any land-based lines and without the constraints inherent in wide area networks (WANs).

Of course, to fulfil this dream requires reliability and performance in wireless networks which live up to the level of traditional land lines and satellite links.

While wireless LAN solutions are beginning to rival the usefulness of cable-based networks, these do not fulfil the promise of computing anywhere at anytime.

Sure, wireless LANs can help improve efficiency within buildings and even within campuses by eliminating costly wiring installation and allowing notebook users to remain on-line as they move around the office during the work day.

But step outside the limited reach of the wireless LAN transmitters and receivers and suddenly people find themselves constrained once again by the limitations of traditional WAN technology.

The advent of wireless modem technology - whether using radio transmission or digital cellular networks - has opened the door to wireless WAN implementation. But, the goal of a totally wireless WAN remains distant.

The scenario in which complete client-server networks are implemented without any land based cables is still not there.

Wireless modems still do not offer the speed and reliability of fixed-line modems, and even if they did, 28.8 Kpbs with compression still does not match a T-1 connection (although it beats a 64-K line at times). Still, wireless modems are rapidly improving as the recent release of Motorola's MAX service shows.

What is needed is new methods for moving data around networks which will significantly improve data transfer rates in wireless and phone-line-based environments without requiring costly shifts to entirely new networking software technologies.

The recent emergence of a variation on the client-server model, namely a client-agent-server model, promises to make possible the creation of entirely wireless client-server networks.

An excellent example of this model is the new Mobile Agents product from Oracle which is available in Hong Kong. With Mobile Agents, an agent sits between the client and server. The agents run on the server and handle requests from off-site clients. The agents receive the requests, obtain responses from the server and handle the packaging of the data into packets to be sent back to the client.

Ideally, these agents should significantly reduce the amount of network traffic needed for interaction between clients and servers.

Among the advantages of Oracle Mobile Agents is the ability to roll connection handshakes into a single packet and the capability to combine incoming packets until the message is complete.

Tests show that Oracle Mobile Agents can improve response times from the server by as much as 50 times.

What is significant, however, is that Mobile Agents does not have to run on a wireless network and can run on LANs, dial-up lines, WANs and satellite links. Except for LAN connections, all these show significant improvements in response times.

Oracle Mobile Agents comes in versions which allow the creation of agents on UNIX systems and agents and clients on Windows machines and is easy to develop for anyone with experience in C or Visual Basic.