ER/Studio Delivers Superior Data Models

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - Developing an enterprise solution can be an incredibly complex and arduous process. Whether you're working on an e-commerce application or a data warehouse, you'll first need to develop a corporate data model -- or re-engineer an existing one -- to determine the ways in which business information should best flow through your organization. Creating this model is not only intricate and costly but also crucial to the success of your company. A poorly crafted model can cause information gaps, mismanaged resources, and potential revenue and customer loss.

With the release of ER/Studio 4.0, Embarcadero Technologies Inc. answers the frenzied prayers of your data modelers. This feature-packed data modeling application will lead your technical team through every step of the development process, from business requirement analysis to system development, ensuring the most efficient and inclusive model possible.

I was thrilled with the capabilities of ER/Studio 4.0, and although it had a few minor flaws, I enthusiastically give it an Excellent rating and recommend it as a must-buy enterprise development tool.

Other data modeling products will create the data definition and language to set up your database, but ER/Studio doesn't stop there. It also provides online generation, Sax Basic support, Java application generation, and database parsing. You can also easily extract submodels and physical data models to create an incredibly attractive environment for the support and maintenance of your information needs.

From the physical model, ER/ Studio supports native connectivity to Oracle Corp., Sybase Corp., Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server, and IBM Corp.'s DB2. It also supports ODBC connectivity to Informix, Interbase, and others. You can generate applications using Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java, Inprise Corp.'s JBuilder, Microsoft SDK (software development kit) for Java, Visual J++, and WebGain Inc.'s Studio.

I used ER/Studio to reverse-engineer my current client's legacy database from Sybase to Microsoft SQL Server 7.0. The existing data model was already 5 years old and documented only in a barely readable, yellowing report taped to the manager's wall. My task was to analyze this model, determine its capability of supporting new business requirements, and redefine it for Microsoft SQL Server.

I loaded ER/Studio onto one of the database administrator's workstations and selected the option to reverse engineer. The tool was a cinch to navigate and provided me with several versions of Sybase from which to choose. I selected every item from the system, including all tables, triggers, rules, custom data types, and stored procedures. Within seconds, ER/Studio displayed the complete existing logical and physical models.

Next, I separated the logical data model into submodels to evaluate the system's capacity to manage recently defined business functions. The application then converted the logical model into a physical data model and created the DDL (Data Definition Language) necessary to build the complete database into Microsoft SQL Server.

ER/Studio's easy-to-learn graphical interface saved me immeasurable time and hassle during this process. The interface listed both the logical and physical models with all their tables and attributes in a tree format to the left side of the screen. To the right side was the logical database, and in the bottom corner was a zoom window displaying the currently selected table.

With this screen layout I could simultaneously view the complete model in the main window and the entity details in the zoom window. To take full advantage of this handy convenience, I added another monitor to my system, moved the zoom window to the second machine, and enlarged the screen. I could then move extremely quickly through the model, no longer struggling to negotiate through my model's many paths.

I practically strolled through learning and implementing this application, which is good news for your overburdened technical staff. Converting the logical model to physical, for instance, was as simple as selecting the Generate Physical option and customizing the results.

You can also easily select the target database platform, the entities to convert, and the types of indexes to create when you generate your physical data model. ER/Studio's data dictionary allows you to bind data dictionary elements such as rules, defaults, user data types, and domains to the attributes, which promotes the re-use of funda-mental design elements.

The only inconveniences I encountered with the product were minor. Text fields can be modified only at 100 percent, which means that you must reset the zoom feature each time you enter any text data. Because I kept my zoom window open during my entire reverse-engineering process, I suffered through the headache of setting and resetting my zoom option several times.

In addition, ER/Studio will not allow you to redefine your options once you've begun developing your data model, which may cause some small hassle if you neglect to set your preferences in advance. For example, I prefer elbowed lines between entities, but once I began the process with straight lines selected, I could not adjust without first starting over. However, these drawbacks are a drop in the bucket compared with the ease with which the application speeds you through an otherwise very tedious procedure.

The icing on the ER/Studio cake is its Report Options menu, which includes a reporting tool to generate design dictionaries for the logical and physical data models and offers countless options to help you design a complete report.

You can generate either printed reports or a completely tailored online intranet dictionary featuring your favorite browser. Over the next few months, Embarcadero also plans to include images of the data model in the intranet documentation.

ER/Studio has only one other drawback worth mentioning: Embarcadero requires that you provide your system's computer ID and Session ID for your license, which means that you must call Embarcadero to transfer your license each time you update your computer. But again, although this is certainly inconvenient, it does not detract from the data modeling tool's overall superlative quality.

I cannot adequately emphasize the impact that ER/Studio will have on the success of your enterprise. The cost of the product is barely a concern compared to the money it will save your company and the modeling enhancements it will offer your development team. In light of its functionality, its flaws are hardly noticeable and do not affect the product's Excellent rating.

Allan Holbrook is a senior systems engineer at Holbrook Consulting, in British Columbia, and can be reached at allan@servillian.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT

ER/Studio 4.0

Business Case: ER/Studio 4.0 is a comprehensive data modeling application that simplifies the development of enterprise solutions. The product's full-featured functionality will save you time and money while increasing the quality of your data model.

Technology Case: ER/Studio 4.0 fully equips your modeling group with the tools to build, develop, or re-engineer enterprise applications. It provides online report generation, Visual Basic macro support, Java application generation, and database parsing.

Pros:

+ Extremely adaptable to industry-standard development tools+ Dynamite graphical interface+ Inclusive set of data modeling features+ Generated intranet dictionaryCons:

- Minor hassles with the graphical interface- Slightly inconvenient licensing processCost: $2,495Platform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NTEmbarcadero Technologies Inc., San Francisco; (415) 834-3131; www.embarcadero.com

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