Thursday, December 7, 2006

Beyond the web linking to enterprise data

But any Intranet isn't complete with some thought to how you'll move what data you've already created into the project. Just copying the files (if indeed that is even possible) isn't really a satisfactory solution: you don't want to rely on individuals to do this on a regular (meaning, more than twice) basis: that is what automation is intended to do.

So what tools are available to publish our data on the web and inside discussion groups? Let's look at several situations:

First off, you have data residing on some host-based application and wish to provide access via a web browser or some other Intranet-related application. You should consider products such as Attachmate's Emissary Host Publishing System, which enable applications to be built that have HTML-like front ends, while the data still resides on host-based systems such as CICS applications and also host databases such as DB2.. The product includes, several of Attachmate's application-building tools such as Quick App and Quick DB, back end TCP/IP connection to the host to move information into and out of the host, and an ActiveX custom control that generates HTML.

Another situation may be where you have an existing SQL database server and you want to grant some kind of access to a subset of this information to people using a web browser. Better yet, you'd like to design a web page that incorporates pieces of your databases, such as showing the current status of your projects, or a corporate phone directory, or a list of various forms that are available.

There are a number of products in this arena and more appearing almost daily. Some of them are gateways that connect existing SQL database servers to web servers, so that clients using web browsers can query the data. Others support a variety of database formats and have more extensive development environments that allow more involved forms creation and can retrieve indices of documents that are generated on the fly.

It sounds good in theory, but the web/database junction is still fairly new: things that have long been possible in client/server systems such as data validation at the client end and the ability to tab across the dialog box while scrolling down the screen are more difficult to implement with HTML forms.

Products that do these tasks include:

* SQL database gateways include Sybase's webSQL, Oracle's Web System, and IBM's DB2 Web Connection;
* Web database development environments include NetScheme's InterMart Toolkit (, Marlborough, Mass.), Allaire's Cold Fusion (, Minneapolis, Minn.), and Level 5's Quest (, Mellbourne, Fla.), and ExperTelligence's WebBase (, Santa Barbara, Calif.)
* Database extensions that allow data queries to work over Internet connections include Aspect Software Engineering's dbWeb (, Honolulu, HA) and Working Set's DataRamp (, Lexington, Mass.)
* And, Lotus' InterNotesWeb Publisher (, Cambridge, Mass.)can take existing Notes databases and publish them on the web so that ordinary web browsers can view the same data.

And finally there are a number of products that extend the office environment to include Intranet awareness. This includes the ability to save files in HTML format, or collaborate over the Internet using a variety of word processing and spreadsheet tools. For example, all of Microsoft's and Lotus' Office component applications have Internet features -- with Microsoft Excel, you can save your spreadsheet into a web table format, and with Lotus' Freelance, you can save your presentation into a series of GIF files that can be viewed by browsers.