Profound Logic Gives Web Access to DB2/400 with iData
December 4, 2007 Alex Woodie
Ever wished you could access and edit your DB2/400 records directly from a Web browser? If so, perhaps you should check out iData, a new tool recently introduced by Profound Logic. The use of AJAX and other Web 2.0 techniques provides an extremely fast and intuitive way to access the database, according to Profound. And while the iData beta is focused primarily on database editing, it will soon expand to include other capabilities, such as querying and reporting, Web form creation, and Web application development.
As one of the promising providers of third-party application development and modernization tools for the System i platform, Profound Logic has a good handle on the needs of its customers, which are small and midsize System i shops. Lately, the Ohio company has been seeing a lot of desire and demand for Web 2.0-style programming–the catch-all for flashy Web graphics and browser-based applications that behave like your traditional fat-client, Windows-based programs.
There’s no technical reason why Web 2.0 applications can’t be served up from System i servers, and so that’s a lot of what Profound Logic’s technical services and custom programming teams have been up to the last couple of years, says David Russo, Profound’s director of sales and marketing. “Our developers have been mastering those techniques, so we’ve gotten real good at that,” Russo says. “Then the idea came along: Why not create a nice graphical database tool for the iSeries using these technologies?”
And thus was born iData.
The initial goal of iData–the brainchild of Profound’s CEO, Alex Roytman–was to create a database editing tool that was easier and more intuitive to use than the green-screen database utilities available to System i programmers and power users. The product’s Web 2.0-style interface works much like Microsoft Excel, enabling users to move, resize, or eliminate columns to get the right view of their DB2/400 data.
Upon first viewing iData, one might mistake it for a fat-client app. The familiar “file,” “edit,” and “view” drop down menus adorn the top of the screen, a tree-view of one’s database is aligned to the right, while “quick launch” buttons allow developers to rapidly type in specific library coordinates. A right click of the mouse brings up advanced functions and view options. It all works in the drag-and-drop manner most users have grown accustomed to using, not entirely unlike your Yahoo! fantasy football Web console. In fact, it’s a little scary knowing you could delete a million DB2/400 records with a click of the mouse, until you realize every function can be enabled or disabled for particular users.
But of course, out-innovating 1970’s screen design principals in the Web 2.0 era is little like shooting fish in a barrel. So Profound set its sights just a little higher, and aimed to out-do some of the graphical tools available from third-party vendors, which Russo says can be cumbersome to use. “We found that none of them were very easy to use,” he says. “A lot of the time, especially with graphical tools–iSeries Navigator and the third-party vendors–they tend to be a bit slow in communicating with the iSeries. That makes them a bit cumbersome to use, because you have to wait a minute to get your page of records.”
Profound Logic says it addressed this slowness with the combination of AJAX and patent-pending programming techniques that allows users to scroll, in real-time, through DB2/400 tables containing millions of records. “We fetch only records the user is currently viewing, which allows the server to respond very quickly,” Russo says. “We also cache records when we’ve loaded them, so when you scroll up and down, it loads only what you need loaded, giving you quick response time.”
While the iData product resides entirely on the System i server, where it works in close concert with the HTTP Server (the one powered by Apache) to serve XML to the Web browser, the use of AJAX programming techniques allows iData to save precious CPWs for accessing the database and other server jobs. “Your PC has a lot of processing power that goes unused in traditional client-server applications, whereas here, all of the nifty effects are being done on your PC, and we’re going after the iSeries for very little,” Russo says.
iData was formally introduced at the recent iSeries DevCon conference in Las Vegas over a month ago, and since then, the product has been downloaded by an enthusiastic group of beta testers. However, the product being used by the beta testers contains just a smidgen of the functionality Profound Logic has planned.
“We have further plans for this tool,” says Russo, as he demonstrates the product’s “join files” command to create custom views of DB2/400 data. When the “export” function is enabled (and it’s not yet finished in the current beta), that custom view could be published to a user as a hyperlink. The product’s graphing, charting, and Flash animation could be used to spruce up the report even further.
“Using this interface, I can very easily design a query or a report, and send my user a link to the information,” he says. “It could be a very powerful tool not only for a database editing tool, which will be our initial focus, but also down the road for querying and reporting.”
When it comes to Web-based query tools for the System i, there’s a very big elephant in the room in the form of IBM and its DB2 Web Query product. Obviously, Profound isn’t positioning iData as a direct competitor to DB2 Web Query, which would be product suicide. Instead, Profound is hoping to attract the smaller customers that can’t afford the IBM product, that need a product that’s simpler and easier to use, and maybe that can’t afford the performance hit that a full-featured product like DB2 Web Query might entail. “We’re getting to a segment of the market that maybe isn’t served very well by IBM,” Russo says.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to querying and reporting, Profound Logic sees iData being used to create Web-based forms that customers could use to submit orders or similar tasks. And since iData can create unique views of DB2/400 data, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used in conjunction with a Web application to create customized lists, such as a customer’s past orders, or its outstanding balance. “In Web applications, this type of page-able, sort-able, searchable listing of records is one of the most common types of screens that a developer will put together,” Russo says.
iData is currently in beta tests. The software works with all common Web browsers. Profound Logic expects to ship the first version of iData by January 15. Pricing has not yet been set.
Profound Logic welcomes additional beta testers for iData. To download the beta, visit the company’s Web site at www.profoundlogic.com.