A Swiss Army Knife for
MBF-UDALinks .NET-based tools
enable access across multiple platforms
Review by John Burke
With Universal Data Access
Link (MBF-UDALink), M. B. Foster Associates old DataExpress
product has morphed into a Swiss Army knife suite of products. Each
product is targeted at specific situations to give you both
host-based and client-server-based access to your HP 3000 data
anytime and from anywhere.
It is not easy to wrap your
mind around what MBF-UDALink really is. On the one hand, it is the
time-honored DataExpress (now called UDALink Reporter), albeit with
some new wrinkles. This end-user-oriented report generator for the HP
e3000 runs completely on the HP e3000 and gives you access to all
types of data sources. On the other hand, it is what used to be known
as ODBCLink (UDALink.com), which gives you ODBC access to HP e3000
data sources (TurboIMAGE databases, Allbase databases, Oracle
databases, KSAM files, flat files, etc.) from Windows client
applications. Finally, MBF-UDALink (MBF-Enterprise not
reviewed) is a cross-platform tool for integrating data from a
variety of sources. This product can be particularly useful for
organizations facing a phased migration from the HP e3000 to some
There is even a UDALink-UX
(not reviewed here) that contains the same basic functionality in an
HP-UX environment. UDALink-UX can aid sites planning a staged
migration from the HP e3000 to HP-UX. These products themselves often
have numerous optional components, so it can get a little confusing.
For those who follow the industry trends, M.B. Foster, as a Microsoft
Certified Solutions Provider, has designed all its Windows software
to be .Net ready.
The core product of UDALink, UDALink
Reporter, runs on the HP e3000 and gives you access to all types of
data (see Figure 1), whether in IMAGE, Allbase/SQL or
Oracle databases, KSAM files, or even flat files. It is a
general-purpose data extraction, manipulation, interchange, download
and reporting system. Figure 2 shows the
many output formats supported. I took particular note that UDALink
Reporter now supports XML, HTML and PDF output formats. Interactive
batch allows you to create procedures online, provide the selection
criteria and then launch a batch process which can be deferred to
off-peak hours. UDALink Reporter options include:
Profiles, where you
can optimize and customize resource usage by user or group of users,
establishing additional security levels.
Support for all the
major dictionary systems as well as support for Allbase/SQL and
IMAGE/SQL DBEs. UDALink also has its own dictionary
system where you can take definitions of IMAGE databases, KSAM and
MPE files and compile them into an FD dictionary.
Views, a very powerful
feature, where you define all the linkages so that the end-user sees
even very complex data as one flat table. You can strip out columns,
add new ones and even add field value security to control what rows
an end-user sees.
the end-user can customize reports via an interactive design facility
that immediately shows the result on screen of any design change.
UDALink.com (aka ODBCLink)
uses Microsofts Open Database Connectivity version 3 standard
API to enable Windows applications to natively access (read/write)
data on your HP e3000 without having to know anything about its
structure or access methods. UDALink.com can make use of Views, Field
Value Security, dictionaries, and so on, as defined in the core
UDALink Reporter module. With UDALink.com you can access your HP
e3000 data from PC software such as MSAccess, Visual Basic, MSExcel,
Cold Fusion, or Impromptu.
ODBCLink/SE, which is
included in FOS on the HP e3000, is a subset of UDALink.com. It is
important to note that UDALink.com can natively access TurboIMAGE,
KSAM and flat files, something ODBCLink/SE can not do. Also,
UDALink.com provides ODBC access across serial and modem links,
again, something ODBCLink/SE can not do. MBF-UDALink.com has options
Secure Socket Layer (SSL)
ODBC: This option purportedly provides the only secure ODBC
connection to the HP e3000 and HP 9000. It uses industry standard SSL
with encryption to prevent intercepted data from being read. Security
can be configured to use encryption only, encryption and server
certificate authentication, or encryption with both client and server
MBF-Console (see Figure 4) provides high-level monitoring of
connections for multiple servers. MBF-Console displays information
about individual processes connected to a MBF-UDALink listener and
allows you to change logging levels and view/filter logs in real
Remote procedure call has
been around for awhile, but deserves mention. It allows PC
programmers to call code that encapsulates business logic that is
centrally located on an HP e3000 as an XL or as a Proclib on an HP
9000. Any function that can be put in an XL and is not
option-variable can be called with the SQL extension specific to
MBF-UDALink CALL command.
COM Builder allows developers
working in a Microsoft environment to create COM objects out of HP
e3000 host library routines. Once created, the COM objects are
available for use by any Windows application being developed. The PC
application programmer need not know or understand the HP 3000
business logic the COM object implements; the set of inputs and
outputs for the COM object completely defines it.
Two-Phase Commit provides the
ability to safely and simultaneously update multiple databases on,
possibly, multiple servers. MBF-UDALink will do correct recovery
through commit/rollback using XA compliance and Microsofts
Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC) technology.
UDALink Transaction Monitor
was developed to allow you to monitor and manage multiple complex
transactions in a two-phase commit or RPC implementation.
The host portion of UDALink,
both UDALink Reporter and UDALink.com, follow the usual install
process of restoring an installation script from tape, which then is
executed to configure the system and restore the rest of the files.
It was pretty simple and took only a few minutes. The host-based
reporter was then ready to go. For the client-server portions, you
just stream the listener job and turn your attention to the clients.
The client portions can either be installed directly from CD, or be
restored from tape and downloaded to the PC to complete the
installation from a local self-extracting file.
Every PC that is going to use the UDALink
ODBC connector must install the UDALink driver, using the familiar
InstallShield process. Once installed, you need only configure the
users and data sources using the hostconf utility (see Figure 3). I noticed that installing the UDALink driver
does not require a reboot of the PC. The optional COM Builder and
MBF-Console software is installed the same way, but require a reboot.
These products will be installed on at most a handful of PCs, so this
is not too annoying.
Documentation and Help
The MBF-UDALink suite of
products comes with five major manuals. Two cover DataExpress and its
options, a 310-page User Reference Manual and a 312-page
Administration Guide. The client-server products and options,
including the former ODBCLink and COM Builder, are covered in a
216-page Client Server Manual. The MBF-Console product has its own
52-page manual. Finally, the DataExpress Cross Platform product has
its own 50-page manual. All manuals are delivered in PDF format and
contain numerous screen shots, a real plus in my book.
The host-based user
interfaces of MBF-UDALink are menu- and prompt-driven. At any of the
prompts you can enter a single question mark to get one line of
information or a double question mark for more detailed help. Also,
from the ?? help or the main menu, you can access the indexed help
function to explore the topic of your choice. The MBF-UDALink
host-based report writer comes with a seven-part CBT tutorial that
leads the new user through the steps necessary to create reports and
report procedures. A nice addition is that you can even create your
own tutorials, customizing them for your organization using real
data. The PC-based tools all have online Windows help
From end-user host-based reporting
(UDALink Reporter) to multi-platform connectivity and integration
(MBF-UDALink Enterprise), M.B. Foster has a solution to your data
access needs. Whether a Homesteader or Migrator, MBF-UDALink can meet
your HP 3000 data access challenges with its suite of host-based and