WebApp serves it forth

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.

REPORT CARD

WebApp Server Product Suite 2.1

Score: B+

Data Access Corp.

(800) 451-3539

www.dataaccess.com

Price and availability: Cost is $495 for Web-App Studio, Windows-based development tools, and$2,495 for Web-App Server, a Windows-based application for single-processorservers running Windows NT, or $3,995 for a multi-processor server runningWindows NT.

Remarks: Data Access' WebApp Server Product Suite contains an application serverand development environment that tightly integrate with the Windows platformand Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). This solution is best-suitedto companies that want to develop database-related applications for theWeb that leverage Microsoft's Active Server Page technology.

BY Maggie Biggs
October 30, 2000

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