Product Review: ForeSite masters integrations

There is a bevy of application servers on the market today. Choosing the best one for your site will require you to examine price as well as other factors -- such as functionality, reliability, manageability and the degree of customisation you need.

In the case of InfoSpinner's ForeSite 3.0.2, limitations in platform support, developer expertise, and a healthy (but not outrageous) price tag will be some of the things to keep in mind if you decide to evaluate the product for your enterprise.

By far, the product's greatest strength is its capability of integrating mixed systems, applications, and data as part of a comprehensive Web strategy. This application server boasts strong support for bringing together dissimilar platforms, and it is priced competitively compared to rivals such as BEA's WebLogic.

However, those purchasing ForeSite should be aware of the product's platform limitations, as well as the need for an experienced development staff to administer it.

The ForeSite application server contains several components. The core components are the Integrator, Dispatcher, and PageServer. The Integrator is a visual environment that developers use to build integration objects. The Dispatcher manages load balancing and fail-over recovery tasks, while the multithreaded PageServer supports connectivity and page-caching services.

All of ForeSite's core components are limited to the Windows platform. This makes ForeSite an unsavory choice for sites that use other platforms, such as Unix-based servers, to host Web applications. Application-server rivals, such as BEA's WebLogic, support a greater number of platforms.

Besides ForeSite's core components, there are some additional modules available. The Adaptor module supports connectivity between your Web server and ForeSite. The Adaptor can run on Windows, Solaris, AIX, or HP-UX platforms.

InfoSpinner has also included modules for tracking application activity and for supporting Microsoft's ActiveX and Active Server Pages. These last three modules, like the core components, are limited to the Windows platform.

During my tests, ForeSite installed easily. However, I did receive multiple error messages concerning incorrect versions of Windows Dynamic Link Libraries (DLLs) following the installation and during subsequent usage.

SIMple integration

ForeSite offers several different types of integration modules -- known as System Integration Modules (SIMs). The SIMs provide support for host-system integration, ODBC access to relational data; application accessibility via Java, ActiveX, and Java Servlets, as well as integration with IBM's MQSeries and CICS transactions.

I was able to integrate some existing 5250 applications I had, as well as Oracle and DB2 relational data using ForeSite's Integrator and the Host Integration and ODBC SIMs. However, I was disappointed that connectivity to relational data was limited to ODBC. Many competing application servers provide native drivers to the major relational databases.

I did like ForeSite's newly added support for Extensible Markup Language (XML), which the company calls Enterprise XML. This support includes the capability to construct composite XML documents from existing data and applications that are not integrated. In addition, developers can use the XML support in ForeSite's Java Integration Framework to access data.

ForeSite's Integrator proved useful during my tests. Furthermore, I found that it will meet the needs of more experienced developers who are tasked with integrating varied systems, applications, and data. However, more novice developers will find the going rough. InfoSpinner could address the needs of less experienced developers by including more detailed documentation, as well as some additional tutorial materials.

Companies that need to integrate a variety of systems, applications, and data may want to give ForeSite a look. However, be advised that in its present form, ForeSite is a less-than-comprehensive solution, given its platform constraints and its lack of native database drivers. In addition, sites purchasing ForeSite will need to have experienced developers on staff.

However, countering these factors is ForeSite's strength in integrating multiple disparate systems via its SIM support and Integrator development environment. Organisations that are Windows-centric will find this ForeSite release especially appealing.

Enterprise Computing Acting Section Editor and Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) evaluates enterprise technology, has more than 15 years of IT experience, and writes the Enterprise Toolbox column.

ForeSite at a glance

InfoSpinner includes these modules to maximise ForeSite's integration capabilities.

Core modules

-- Integrator: Development environment used to create integration objects-- Dispatcher: Manages load balancing and fail-over-- PageServer: Provides connectivity to back-end dataOther ForeSite modules-- Adaptor: Supports connectivity between the Web server and ForeSite-- Monitor: Performs activity tracking-- ASPConnect: Provides ForeSite accessibility for those using Microsoft's Active Server Pages-- FSTPConnect: Maintains ForeSite connectivity for those using ActiveXForeSite System Integration Modules (SIMs)-- Host integration SIM: Integrates Web-to-host applications-- ODBC SIM: Integrates relational data via ODBC-- J SIM: Integrates Java classes and methods-- COM SIM: Used to invoke nonvisual ActiveX controls-- Servlets SIM: Used to invoke Java servlets-- Message Queue SIM: Integrates IBM MQSeries data-- Transaction Server SIM: Integrates with IBM CICSThe bottom line: goodForeSite Application Server 3.0.2Summary: The strength of InfoSpinner's ForeSite is in its capability to integrate disparate systems. It is a good choice for companies that need to integrate a variety of systems.

Business Case: To calculate return on investment time, you'll need to factor in ForeSite's limited platform support and the cost of experienced developers.

Pros:

+ Encryption in intracluster configurations+ Provides a Java framework, including Extensible Markup Language+ Offers Web integration of 3270, 5250, and VT apps+ Integrates with MQSeries, CICS, and Java servletsCons:

- Core components limited to Windows

- No native database driver support

- Inadequate documentation

- Windows Dynamic Link Library versioning problemsCost: US$29,995, includes a basic integration pack; additional integration modules available at added costPlatform(s): Windows 95/98, Windows NTInfoSpinner Inc, Texas; +1-972-479-0135; http://www.infospinner.com

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