Surround Tech Brings IBM i Customers Closer to .NET Goal
September 20, 2011 Alex Woodie
Surround Technologies comes from the AS/400 and LANSA worlds, and understands the tremendous value the platform holds for business. But the company also understands that green-screen 5250 interfaces do not cut it anymore, and that Microsoft .NET has a lot to offer IBM i shops when it comes to the user experience and Web service integration layers, which is the focus of its recently updated Accelerator for .NET product.
A good way to begin understanding Surround Tech’s Accelerator for .NET product may be to think of it as a rapid application development (RAD) tool for the .NET developer. The software, which plugs into Microsoft Visual Studio, speeds up the .NET development process by using configurable prototypes, pre-built patterns, a wizard-driven code customization process, and generation of C# and VisualBasic.NET that runs in the Microsoft CLR (common language runtime).
Much of the attention that Accelerator for .NET receives focuses on its capability to automatically generate user interfaces (UIs) that are based on Microsoft’s Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) technologies, which are used to create cutting edge UIs for Web and Windows environments, respectively. However, Surround Tech developers also have put a lot of time into sculpting entire architectures for .NET applications based on the model view controller (MVC) paradigm.
Last week the Florida company announced Accelerator for .NET version 3, which implements the second of three planned development stages for the product.
The first stage, which was accomplished soon after Accelerator for .NET was first unveiled at the 2009 spring COMMON show in Reno, Nevada, was generation of client HTML5 within a services oriented architecture (SOA).
With stage two, the company has implemented Microsoft’s XML-based communications layer, based on ASP.NET and MVC3, to enable fast and rich connections between clients and applications. It can also automatically create Silverlight and WPF interfaces for deployment on Windows, Web, or mobile devices. This is currently where the product sits.
Stage three, which is expected to be released as a product in 2012, will give customers more code generation capabilities for the back-end .NET application. At that point, customers will be able to automatically create full .NET applications.
Stage three will also give IBM i shops more automatic generation of .NET applications. “Stage three is a complete end-to-end generation,” says Criss Chrestman, a business development manager with Surround Tech. “That means that you could, if you wanted to, against an IBM i data schema, pull that in and generate a full application in either WPF or Silverlight.”
These .NET applications will interact with IBM i data via a direct database connection or via stored procedures. While full migration to .NET and SQL Server is a possibility at this stage, it’s an unlikely one. “We don’t find a lot of people want to leave the IBM i behind,” Chrestman says. “They want an easier way of connecting to it. They don’t want to buy expensive Web services tools. They just want a way to do it, and control their own destiny.”
Stage three isn’t due until early next year, so let’s look at stage two (i.e. Accelerator for .NET version 3) a bit more. There are several other features, in addition to the stage two generation capabilities, i.e. automatically generating the skeletons for Windows, Web, and mobile interfaces upon which developers can do their final HTML layering.
These other features include automatic generation of PDF documents; automatic integration with Microsoft email; and better integration with Microsoft Active Directory for user authentication. This release also introduces the PowerGrid, which provides a spreadsheet-like layout for developers and allows them work with multiple objects at the same time.
For more information, see the company’s website at www.surroundtech.com.