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Version tested: 6.03.01

M. B. Foster Associates Ltd.
82 Main Street South
Chesterville, Ontario
Canada K0C 1H0

Phone: 800-ANSWERS (267.9377) (US and Canada)
International: 1.613.448.2333
Fax: 613.448.2588
Web: www.mbfoster.com
E-mail: info@mbfoster.com

The products are supported on the server side by MPE/iX 6.0 and higher. On the client side, Windows 95 and higher or Windows NT and higher are required. Additionally, UDALink-COM Builder requires Microsoft Visual Studio 6. Pricing is tier-based and ranges from $5,000 to $30,000 (US dollars) for the basic MBF-UDALink product. Support runs 20 percent of the current list price per year. A time-limited evaluation copy is available.



January 2002

A Swiss Army Knife for Data Access

MBF-UDALink’s .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 other platform.

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.

• ReportDesigner, where 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 Microsoft’s 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 which include:

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 certificate authentication.

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 time.

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 Microsoft’s 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 systems.


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 client-server tools.



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