WebApp serves it forth
- By Maggie Biggs
- Oct 29, 2000
If your agency or department is working on developing database applications
for its Web site and especially if you're already employing Microsoft
Corp.'s Active Server Pages you'll want to take a close look at Data Access
Corp.'s WebApp Server Product Suite 2.1. The suite does one thing very well:
It provides tools to access databases through applications that leverage
Microsoft's Active Server Pages.
Developers who use Active Server technology already know that it is best-suited
for the creation of dynamic HTML pages, making it possible to build pages
in response to user queries. But database access under the Active Server
paradigm can be a tricky affair. The WebApp Server Product Suite does a
good job of countering Active Server Pages' database access shortcomings.
The WebApp Server suite consists of Windows-based application server
software WebApp Server and a Windows-based development interface WebApp
Studio. The suite is well-documented, and the biggest glitch you'll run
into is the time needed to fulfill the products' Windows prerequisites.
I had to reboot several times, and it took me well over three hours to load
the required Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4, the Windows NT Option Pack
and Internet Explorer 5.0, which is required by WebApp Studio.
Of course, there are other middle-tier application server solutions
that either provide integrated development tools (as the WebApp Server suite
does) or contain support for the integration of third- party development
environments. Many of those solutions support Active Server Pages as well
as other, more open paradigms, such as Java. Solutions from rivals such
as BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic, IBM Corp.'s WebSphere and Bluestone Software
Inc.'s SapphireWeb offer broad platform and Web server support and development
paradigm options as well as higher-end facilities, including multiple schemes
for load balancing.
But, if you are wed to Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS)
and Active Server Pages, the WebApp Server Product Suite is a solid bet.
WebApp Server is neatly integrated with IIS. During application execution,
Microsoft's IIS runs the scripts and communicates with WebApp Server using
the Component Object Model (COM) interface. The WebApp Server could be on
the same machine as IIS or a on separate Windows NT machine, depending on
how distributed your Windows environment might be.
WebApp Server encapsulates COM calls so that less experienced developers
will be shielded from the complexities of Microsoft's object model. Business
logic that runs on WebApp Server leverages a proprietary language. This
may be a drawback for some agencies that favor abandoning older, proprietary
approaches to development in favor of newer, more open application paradigms.
However, the proprietary nature of this solution did not get in the way
during my test.
WebApp Studio Data Access' development environment is a good match
for newer developers or programmers who like to use a wizard-based approach
to speed development. Developers can quickly choose data elements, such
as tables or columns, that are needed in their applications. Business rules
can also be set up in this manner.
I found it easy to construct a simple order-entry application in less
than 30 minutes. WebApp Studio supports Open Database Connectivity access
to Oracle Corp. databases, Pervasive Software Inc.'s Pervasive.SQL and Microsoft's
SQL Server. Native drivers are also included that support IBM's DB2 and
Data Access' Visual DataFlex.
The development environment supports fast generation of Active Server
Pages, which is very clean and contains plenty of comments. The generated
code does not communicate directly with your databases; instead, it manages
the user interface portion of your applications.
When a database does need to be accessed, the Active Server Page code
uses Microsoft's COM to access and execute logic on the WebApp Server.
It is this logic that controls database access and activity.
Developing database applications for the Web using Active Server Page
technology and the Data Access solution requires a heavy reliance on Microsoft
technologies. However, during run time, the end user only needs a Web browser
to access and execute the application. The Web browser does need to run
with cookies enabled, though.
The application server market is crowded with solutions of many stripes.
If your agency wants to leverage open solutions, you'll probably want to
test- drive a number of application server solutions, and there are several
commercial and open-source offerings that are on par or exceed the functionality
offered by the WebApp Server Product Suite.
Data Access could greatly widen its potential customer base by expanding
the technology, platform and Web server support for the WebApp Server Product
Suite. For example, the company might consider adding support for Linux,
Apache and Java Server Pages.
However, the WebApp Server Product Suite is a good fit if your agency
is highly invested in Microsoft technologies. In addition, agencies with
less experienced developers will find that the tools provided in this
solution will speed the deployment of data-related Web applications that
use Active Server Pages.
Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of strategic and
tactical IT experience.