February 28, 2021
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A Quick Look at InterSystems' Cache Database

  • By Gary Walker and Lloyd Work
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The Experience

I ran through the samples, and information from the reviewers guide, and then it happened, a fatal problem. The reviewer's CD included a two-million record sample database file to be used for assisting me in evaluating performance. As luck would have it, when I tried to open it, I got the following message: Error 5075 Class dictionary out of date, please run upgrade utility $system.OBJ.upgrade(). Of course, this meant nothing to me beyond the high probability that the 2,000,000 record sample was in an older format, not recognized by the latest version of Caché. Not wanting to type in two million records for the test, I decided it would be best to upgrade. Naturally, reviewers get special privileges with contacts deep into the heart of upper-tier tech support (try saying that with a straight face), but I thought why not use the provided documentation, which appeared to be quite good instead. Sure enough, in a couple of minutes I had my answer, and was on my way. Personally, this impressed me about as much as anything involved in the product sniff test. Let's face it, documentation typically is horrid, and the only thing worse that reading documentation is writing it. But, there it was on the CD, good documentation for a product, searchable and everything in a simple browser interface.

The only other problem I ran into during my admittedly limited testing was that the Web interface was not working correctly, but once I figured out it was running on the wrong port (via installation default), it was easily corrected.

The Real World

Nothing kills a simple product like contact with the real world. We all know the effect; it looks cool in demos, but you hit real problems and you find out the simple stuff does not work anymore, and you are forced to break the model to accomplish real tasks. SQL is like that; tables are easy to understand, columns make sense, but why do I have to learn left outer join and triggers and stored procedures to make SQL actually work? The answer is, of course, that the real-real is hard. Okay, I can live with that. I'm used to such things. But go back in time to Visual Basic 3, or PowerBuilder 3, HTML or ... Now your mind is filled with running into brick walls. Yes, simple things are simple, but real problems are suddenly really hard to solve. Consider HTML; it was a simple thing, a beautiful thing, until someone declared, hook it up to a database and maintain state for the client. I'm not saying I won't find the brick wall somewhere, but I did not even though I am used to looking for them.

"For we walk by faith, and not by sight." 2 Cor 5:7. Unfortunately, there is no time to explore everything you would like to in a product such as Caché. I cannot build everything necessary to stress test the product, test replication servers, and so forth. I did test performance (let's just say it looked good, outrunning an equivalent test on Oracle), but building a real-world app is just not possible. Fortunately, Caché does have some white papers and customer testimonials on their site. I also read such with a bit of skepticism, but unless Intersystems is outright lying, some people are using their systems for big projects in the real world—in mission-critical systems where lots of real money is involved if the system were to be broken. You gotta have faith that Intersystems is not run by scam artists or pathological liars because they have been in business too long, with too many customers and seats to believe otherwise. Needless to say, if half the stuff in their testimonials is true, Caché is ready for the real world, or at least in some real-world cases.

How Much?

You all know the feeling. The brochure is slick, the product looks great, the salesperson is good-looking, has fresh breath, and acts like your friend, but no one will tell you how bad the damage is going to be. Once you do find out, crest-fallen, you slink into the distance, trying to find a second-rate product that almost meets your needs, but that you can afford. Caché is not free, but starting at $200 for single-user licenses and $1,000 for multi-user licenses, it's not that painful. You can download an evaluation copy for Windows or Linux, but this does not give you a license to deploy or develop an application. But, you can kick the tires and see whether it might be right for you.


Caché is not magic, but I find myself intrigued by some of the possibilities. Some that stuck me in particular as possible for my own future development are:

  • Embedded application development for users without a database administrator
  • Fast development of systems using complex, related objects
  • Fast development of Web database applications
  • Low-cost deployment for large-scale databases

Download a copy at www.intersystems.com and try it yourself.

Gary Walker and Lloyd Work
Astra Digital, Inc.

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This article was originally published on March 10, 2003

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