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Multiple Location Options 

Open Dental can be successfully used when multiple locations are involved. Before deciding your strategy, you must determine your needs.

  • Will there be separate databases for each location or a single central database shared by all locations?
  • If using a single database how will locations share data?
  • How will workstations in each location connect to the server and each other?
  • Will you use the Clinics feature to organize data by location?

The different options are discussed below:

For shared network folder replication strategies, see Shared Network Folder Replication.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): In all of the discussions and diagrams below, it is assumed that locations are connected by a VPN.  In our diagrams, various network routers and switches are generally omitted for simplicity.  Also not included in the diagrams are the shared A to Z folders. A network administrator is usually involved in setting it up. Open Dental support technicians do not set up network specifics.

Separate Databases
This is the simplest approach for multiple locations. Each location has its own local server and unique database.

Figure 4
network separate databases

To see data at another location, there are a few options:

Option 1: Use Remote Access to connect to either a server or a workstation at that location.  This usually works best if only a few locations are involved.

Figure 5

Option 2: Use the Central Enterprise Management Tool to interact with all database from a central location.

Figure 6


Single Database - Share Data
A single centralized database has the advantage of sharing data among locations. However, there can be issues with speed, intermingling of data, and internet down situations.

  • Speed becomes an issue for images, updates, and complex screens.
  • Data that is mingled between multiple locations can be hard to split back out later (e.g. if a location is sold).
  • If internet goes down, then the office goes down.

Consider your options and the advantages/disadvantages of each before making a strategy decision. Also see Connecting Workstations to a Database for more description about each option below.

Option 1: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

  • Achieve the best speeds. 
  • This scales up well as long as the server has plenty of memory.  As a very rough estimate, 5 remote connections can be supported per 1 GB of memory. 


  • Bridges to Imaging Programs.  If the imaging program can be run on Remote Desktop Service (RDS), then any of the thin clients can easily view existing images. If the imaging program does not support RDS, then most workstations may need to be thick clients in order to view images in the imaging program.
  • It does not support some local hardware such as digital radiography.

In this example (figure 7) a single server hosts the database and functions as the RDP server.
Figure 7

In this example (figure 8) more servers are added to support a large number of thin clients.
Figure 8

Option 2: Direct Connection. A disadvantage of RDP is that it does not support some local hardware such as digital radiography.  So, on workstations where images are being captured, a full direct connection may be needed. In the diagram below, thick clients connect to the main server via VPN. Thin clients connect via RDP to the RDP server. Only the thick clients run digital radiography hardware and software.

Figure 9

Option 3: Middle Tier. For better security and speed, all thick clients would connect via the Middle Tier.

Figure 10

Private Cloud: Any of the configurations above could also be done with the server(s) in a datacenter rather than at a dental office.  For example, a simple configuration could be done as follows:

  1. Rent a virtual server on rackspace.com.
  2. Set up a VPN connection between the virtual server and all locations.
  3. (optional) Install Open Dental on the virtual server in the ordinary manner.
  4. Turn on Remote Desktop Services.
  5. Connect to the server as described in the examples above.

Figure 11
network private cloud

Single Virtual Database With Replication
Replication is a technology built into MySQL that continuously keeps a slave database synchronized with its master.  Replication has the following advantages when compared to a single physical database:

  • Very fast at each location, regardless of workstation connection type.
  • Continues to function if internet goes down.

It also has the following disadvantages:

  • Requires very strong database administration skills to properly restore all the databases when replication crashes.
  • Does not scale up well past about 10 servers due to single weak link concept.

One-Way Replication: This is the simplest configuration. The slave can be used to run complex reports that would bog down the main server, or for pausing to make clean backups.  This is a very safe configuration that will not result in corruption. Anyone considering replication is encouraged to run this configuration for a number of months to get very familiar with the administration. 

Figure 12

Daisy Chain Replication: This is a more complex configuration where the replication forms a ring.  All the databases together are referred to as a single virtual database.  In this configuration, each location can continue to function normally even if the internet connection goes down.  The data from the other locations will not be fresh, but an office typically doesn't care as much about that data.  Once the internet connection is restored, the replication quickly updates the database with current data.  This kind of replication is supported very well by Open Dental. 

Figure 13

Miscellaneous Configurations
Removable Storage Devices
If you have two locations, but only access data from one location at a time, you could use a removable storage device to take your data with you. See Encryption for recommendations for protecting data in transit. Examples:

  • Notebook computer: Use it as your server and take with you. Other workstation can use the same data when the notebook is connected to the local network.
  • External Hard Drive: Set up servers at each location. On each server, MySQL would only function if the external hard drive is plugged in..
    • The database would be on the E: drive or something similar.
    • You need to know how to install MySQL to run the database from the alternate drive.
    • You need to know how to move your database to the new location.
    • You have to shut your server down each day before removing the hard drive.
    • When you restart the server, you need to know how to start the MySQL service if it isn't already running.

    This is not a good strategy to take data home at night for three reasons.

    1. It interferes with a proper Backup/Restore strategy (make a copy of the data and run it at home).
    2. Nobody can work until you bring the hard drive back to the office.
    3. It's too complicated for most users.

MySQL Clustering
In a MySQL clustering setup, one database can be spread across multiple physical servers.  This is a way to increase the speed and reliability of a database at one location. It is not a way to have one database at multiple locations. Open Dental will not work in a cluster because many of the tables have rows that are too long.

A Windows cluster is different.  We have seen Open Dental work in a Windows cluster setup, although we cannot currently provide technical support to assist with such a configuration.

Web Version
See Web Version

Multitenant Hosting
If you wish to host multiple customers on the same database server, see Multitenant for isolation information.


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