Attachmate chooses object approach for host access

Fifty per cent of most corporate data still resides on back-end legacy systems - and that's a conservative estimate.

In today's Internet economy, this kind of hypercentralised administration simply won't make the grade anymore.

Business operations, such as supply-chain management and customer relationship management (CRM), depend on accessible information and real-time data sharing, which means no one can afford to have intractable information stuck in back-end databases or applications.

During the past several years, many companies have begun using host access technology to incorporate host information into front-office business applications. But because complete turnkey host publishing systems such as IBM Host Publisher come at a higher price and with a greater level of functionality than necessary for most custom-built applications, some organisations are beginning to write their own host access code.

Happily for these companies, Attachmate's e-Vantage Enterprise Access Objects 2.2 for Windows enables developers to integrate host connectivity directly into applications through an object approach. With e-Vantage, developers can use single objects to handle complex host access functions, such as connections, session negotiation, and frame handling, thus creating cost-efficient applications capable of retrieving business-critical data from back-end systems.

The only competition in this new but growing space is NetManage's Rumba ObjectX, which also offers object-oriented host access functionality.

Although e-Vantage is not yet perfect, it is very easy to use and enables the creation of high-quality host access applications, thereby earning a Very Good score in our evaluation.

Designed for thick-client applications, e-Vantage comprises a set of client-based Common Object Models (COM) objects, ActiveX controls, and an SDK (software development kit). Through COM-compliant development languages, such as Visual Basic, Visual C++, or even PowerBuilder, developers can call these objects, create direct connections to the host, offer navigation capabilities, and transmit data transparently back and forth between front-office applications and the host with minimal effort.

Unfortunately, this release is limited to use on Windows platforms. Also unfortunate is that it offers zero support for Java. However, Attachmate plans to release a new JavaBeans-enabled version sometime during the third quarter of 2000.

I tested the product on a Pentium III machine with 320MB of memory running Windows NT with both Microsoft Visual C++ and Visual Basic installed.

The installation of both the objects and the SDK components of e-Vantage was a breeze. I was very pleased that the SDK offered such a large number of implementation language choices, including Active Server Pages, Visual Basic, Visual C++, VB Script, and JavaScript.

Object definition

The objects themselves are designed for quick and easy deployment. In addition to comprehensive online documentation, Attachmate provides handy code wizards and sample applications to jump-start any development effort.

I began by creating a new session object using one of these wizards, which quickly walked me through the definition of my object. In addition to the AS/400 host to which I connected, I could have chosen to create session objects for asynchronous hosts, such as Unix or VMS machines, as well as an IBM mainframe. The wizard then prompted me to choose the type (either display or printer) of session object I would be creating.

I chose to create an AS/400 display session, defined the IP address, and indicated that I would be using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security. Had I desired, I could also have provided the object with a user ID and password for automatic log-on.

The wizard provided a preview panel that allowed me to display what my screen would look like prior to rollout. I was also able to verify that the IP address I provided was correct with a test connection button.

Should you need to connect to a Unix or VMS system, Attachmate offers support for VT52, VT100, VT220, and VT420 displays. I should mention, however, that users who want to use the ActiveX controls will receive no support for graphic-capable VT devices.

Deployment ease

After defining and testing my objects, I moved to application development and deployment. In addition to being able to use the objects in a high-level language for host access, I could also use them independent of any window for data capture-type applications.

By using a couple of the sample applications, I easily and quickly cobbled together a Visual Basic application that had a terminal window embedded in it as well as a JavaScript application that accessed data from my host.

As the objects are all COM-based, I was even able to embed a custom access object into an Excel spreadsheet without writing a line of code. Although the product employs a thick-client approach, it offers a wide range of deployment possibilities.

Should you give the solution a try and find you require professional assistance, Attachmate offers consulting services for all stages of development. The cost of these services varies, depending on the complexity of your applications and the amount of assistance you require.

In all, I found the Attachmate solution a worthy addition to the host access space. Were it not limited to both the Windows platforms and COM-compliant languages, I would have been tempted to give it an even higher score in my testing.

THE BOTTOM LINE

e-Vantage Enterprise Acess Objects, Version 2.2

Busin-ess Case: This inexpensive Attachmate host access solution gives developers seamless access to back-end, business-critical data for use in front-end applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or CRM. The simple tool will require only moderate training expensesTechn-ology Case: By employing COM objects and ActiveX controls, Attachmate ensures Windows compatibility between desktop and host with minimal programming. However, the product supports only Windows platforms and is limited to COM-compliant languagesPros:-

-l Object approach enables rapid development of host access applicationsl Excellent use of wizards and sample applicationsl Few resource requirementsl Excellent documentationCons-:l Limited to COM-compliant languagesl No support for non-Windows platformsl No support for Java (forthcoming in Q3 2000)Platf-orms: Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Windows 2000.

Pric-e: $564 plus GST for full product and initial licence, $96 for upgrade and support licence.

Attachmate: (02) 9249 7200

www.attatchmate.com.au

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