Oracle Reports 6i Delivers Meaningful Data

THE ABILITY to deliver to end-users meaningful operational data compiled from a variety of network applications can have a huge and immediate payoff. Employees can make faster and more educated decisions, taking past and future trends into consideration. Companies that are seeking ways to easily build such meaningful reports also want to provide users with the ability to interact and manipulate that data via a browser. If your company falls into this group, you should plan to evaluate the latest version of Oracle Corp.'s enterprise reporting solution, Oracle Reports 6i, beta.

This latest incarnation has turned up the heat on rivals such as Seagate Software with its popular Crystal Reports by offering an extremely powerful reporting tool that also now boasts substantial integration with Oracle's Discoverer (ad hoc query and analysis), Express (OLAP analysis), and WebDB (Web publishing) offerings. While it's a similarly powerful solution, Seagate's Crystal cannot compete with this high level of integration.

In this version, Oracle has also increased the number of platforms supported and added a wealth of new functionality that will help businesses provide end-users with graphically detailed information to support business intelligence. Although still in beta, Oracle Reports 6i looks to be a promising package that is worth the upgrade for existing users and an appealing jumping-off point for sites that are just considering a new investment in enterprise reporting.

Reports is available today either as a component of Oracle Developer or of Oracle's Business Intelligence Suite, or it can be purchased individually.

Oracle has lowered the license cost of the product considerably with this release, when purchased as a stand-alone solution. When we last looked at the product, in April 1999, Version 6.0 was selling for $2,495; the current release will cost $1,995.

On the creation side, Reports consists of a Graphics Builder, a Report Builder, and a Web Based Report Tester.These tools help make the process of building reports very simple and automated, employing a number of easy-to-use wizards and WYSIWYG editing tools. All that is required to build interactive reports is a little imagination and a basic understanding of the data.

The Graphics Builder provides users with the ability to develop interactive displays for representing data visually and manipulating (sorting, charting, filtering) data as needed. The Report Builder tackles the deployment side, providing the capability to design, publish, and distribute reports in a variety of formats. Lastly, the Report Testerenables a quick reality check, letting users know what the report will look like and how it will operate prior to general deployment.

Scalability and management

From the server side, Oracle is on par with its competition. Users will have a secure path for enterprise growth and scalability thanks to Reports' capability of distributing workload across multiple servers and clusters, allowing for greater power and availability. I was also pleased to find that Reports supports centralized administration using a manageable, scalable architecture.

IT managers will appreciate not needing to perform individual workstation installations.

I found the installation of the product to be slightly buggy and confusing as I needed to perform some of the steps manually, including editing configuration files. However, nothing was truly out of the ordinary for a software beta release. After successfully completing the installation, I was rewarded with a tool capable of delivering complex reports from a variety of data sources -- including both relational and multidimensional databases -- while still being simple and intuitive in nature.

Seeking out data

To test the product, I used the included wizards to create a report. The wizard prompted me for information about the style I wanted for my report and to specify whether I wanted to use data from either a relational or OLAP source.

It then helped me build a query for data extraction. Once my selection criteria was defined I was able to work with my data model graphically and define which tables, columns, and elements I wanted to include in my report.

My last step prior to viewing my output was to select a template from which fonts, line widths, and structure would be used. For those not interested in major customization, Oracle has graciously provided many predefined templates.

Moving my report to the Web was as easy as selecting the Web Wizard from within the Report Builder. I was also pleased to be given the opportunity to include additional HTML header or footers.

During my testing, one feature I found to be particularly noteworthy was the ability to render output in Extensible Markup Language (XML). Although the tool had previously offered capabilities of generating into Adobe's Acrobat, HTML, RTF, as well as Postscript, the addition of XML output increases the product's usefulness in an electric-commerce environment and will undoubtedly please many customers.

I was able to create a fully functional XML document easily by selecting an option to Generate to a file from Report Builder's File menu. Oracle's documentation states that almost any report can be output to XML, with the exception of matrix-style reports, which have limited support.

Integration with Oracle's WebDB 2.2 is an added benefit of this solution. WebDB provides an administrative infrastructure to work with, allowing IT to define and enforce relationships between users, reports, report servers, and printers.

Oracle Reports 6i is a worthy application for sites that need a comprehensive reporting tool. Among its highlights are integration with other Oracle products, support for multiple data sources including Informix and Sybase databases, and easy Web deployment capability. With this product in your arsenal, static and dynamic reports no longer need to be approached with fear and trepidation.

Tim Fielden (tim_fielden@infoworld.com) is a senior analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center.

What's new in Oracle 6i, beta?

* Capability of embedding chart hyperlinks* Personalization capabilities* Capability of generating XML output* Integration with Oracle Business Intelligence Suite (Oracle Express and Discoverer)* Integration with WebDB for administration and deployment* Lower price pointTHE BOTTOM LINE: BETAOracle Reports 6i, betaSummary: Oracle Reports 6i provides a powerful and easy-to-use environment for creating presentation-quality reports that take advantage of Web-based distribution.

Business Case: Reports' scalable architecture, integration with complementary Oracle products, and nice new technical features such as the capability of generating Extensible Markup Language (XML) output will help it merge easily into any computing environment and can begin reducing the cost of report generation immediately.

Pros:

+ Easy-to-use creation tools

+ Ability to output reports in XML

+ Increased platform support

+ Excellent scalability

Cons:

- Typical beta installation bugs

- Documentation needs work

- Requires upgrade to WebDB 2.2

Cost: Reports Creation Tools is $1,995 per seat; Reports Server is $75 per concurrent userPlatform(s): Windows 95/98, NT, Solaris, HP-UX, AIXShipping: End of February 2000Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif.; (800) 672-2531; www.oracle.com

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