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IBM OnDemand is more than just a COLD product

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This article appears in the issue October 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 11]

OnDemand from IBM is a great fit for any COLD environment. While IBM designed OnDemand for high-volume, mission-critical applications, its features are suitable for both low-end and high-end COLD applications. OnDemand is highly flexible, providing numerous options for approaching complex business processes. It provides easy-to-use, intuitive setup, administration and maintenance.

We recently evaluated Version 2.2 of OnDemand for Windows NT and found what we believe to be one of the best kept secrets in the COLD market. When people think of IBM and COLD, they tend to think of AFP printing or a mainframe-based product. OnDemand handles much more than AFP, and is one of the most sophisticated client-server offerings that we have seen in this arena.

To meet the needs of departmental users with limited technical resources, OnDemand provides wizards and automated maintenance tools for ease of administration; the DB/2 database is included with the product. For mission-critical enterprise deployments, OnDemand supports host integration, offers sophisticated storage management and provides a scalable, multi-Object Server architecture with transaction monitoring tools.

The OnDemand system is designed for high performance throughout the COLD report life cycle-setup and administration, capture/indexing, storage, retrieval/ viewing and distribution/output. In addition, the system is intuitive and easy-to-use from both an administration and general-use perspective. That combination of performance and ease-of-use is certain to increase productivity in any environment where COLD is the backbone of business processes.

Architecturally, OnDemand uses a three-tier, client-server approach with database connection management capability at the database server, which IBM calls the Library Server. On the client side, both 16-bit and 32-bit versions are available, with the 32-bit version offering PDF support. The Library Server manages database connectivity, so it's not necessary to install database drivers on the client machines. On the server side, all of the core back-end components have been implemented as Windows NT services. The NT version uses either DB/2 or Microsoft SQLServer to store indexes (the AIX version supports only DB/2).

An OnDemand implementation typically includes a centralized Library Server and multiple Object Servers. The Object Servers process the reports, extract the indexes, compress the reports and pass the indexes to the Library Server. For retrievals, the OnDemand client connects to the Library Server to query the index database, and the Library Server passes a list of results back to the client.

The client can then use the list to access the desired objects on the Object Servers, which stream the report pages directly to the client. In addition to serving reports to the clients, each Object Server also maintains a cache for reading and writing data.

Key features

OnDemand's architecture supports a wealth of capabilities. Some include:

  • Setup and maintenance-One welcome feature of OnDemand is the setup wizard, which greatly eases deployment in any environment. OnDemand also gives administrators the option of setting up automated tasks, such as statistics and table segmentation, allowing the database to operate in the optimal state with minimal manual intervention.
  • Tight integration with host system for report download-OnDemand integrates with the host to securely download reports when available, or reports can be imported from any mapped drive in the network. OnDemand's Load Data service controls the download process, recognizes the report types based on file name, and passes the report name and the correct template to the Object Server (or servers) for processing.
  • Intelligent data stream support- OnDemand supports native AFP and takes advantage of indexes created through ACIF. As for Xerox Metacode, the AIX version includes the XtoOnDemand, a self-contained feature that converts Metacode into AFP before processing. The Windows NT version uses a third-party utility to convert the Metacode stream into PDF.
  • Long-term storage management- For long-term archival, OnDemand integrates ADSTAR distributed storage manager (ADSM). Administrators can configure OnDemand to store reports to the magnetic cache for improved retrieval performance. In addition, administrators can use OnDemand's Scheduler Service, which manages ADSM, to move the reports from the cache to the optical subsystem.
  • CD-R support for ad hoc or production applications-For high-volume distribution applications, OnDemand supports additional publishing modules from the IBM Service Group. If a CD is required, OnDemand automatically pulls together the necessary system files and creates a searchable flat-file database for the requested set. It then forms a self-contained CD-R with the data set.
  • System fine-tuning-Report data is stored using configurable size and compression ratios for optimal storage and access scenarios. For faster client searching, OnDemand supports custom page streaming along with client-side caching.

Room for improvement

With so many sophisticated features, it seems as if OnDemand is the quintessential COLD product. However, there is always room for improvement. One major drawback that we saw with this product was its limited Internet offering. The current version is basic, with CGI scripts and HTML pages as the core interface. To address the inherent performance limitations of CGI scripts, OnDemand caches reports at the client.

It should be noted, however, that for future releases of OnDemand, IBM has identified Java as the strategic technology for Web interfaces. In addition, IBM has recently released ContentConnect, which is positioned as a common client for OnDemand and other IBM products in the EDMSuite. ContentConnect is only in Release 1.0, but it is a strong move for IBM in terms of having an integrated client for the Web.

With OnDemand, a single Library Server supports multiple Object Servers. We saw a few problems with that configuration. First, the Library Server does not provide dynamic load balancing. Without dynamic load balancing, the system is likely to experience performance degradation during periods of unpredicted high usage. Second, with only one Library Server, there can be a single point of failure for the entire system.

None of those drawbacks is critical, and the Internet limitations are being addressed. With so many robust features for such a wide spectrum of users, OnDemand's capabilities not only strongly position the product within the COLD niche, they go beyond it. In fact, OnDemand's capabilities make it a strong candidate for an enterprise reporting product as well as a sophisticated COLD system.

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Overview

OnDemand for Windows NT 2.2 provides a robust client-server-based COLD system that organizations can expand to include other report-related applications. The system successfully combines the functional aspects of both departmental and mission-critical deployments into one offering.

Platform support and pricing

The OnDemand server runs on Microsoft Windows NT, which supports DB/2 or Microsoft SQLServer, and AIX, which supports only DB/2. Users can run Windows 95, 98, or NT; OS/2; or any browser. Pricing information is not currently available.

Strategic value to organizations

Not only does OnDemand provide high-performance throughout the COLD report life cycle, but it also has the ability to integrate with other mission-critical applications. With the help of the IBM service group, organizations can easily expand the OnDemand system to incorporate other report-related applications, such as high-volume report distribution, online access over the Web and usage billing and charge back. The integration capability and the product's sophisticated combination of scalability and usability demonstrate that OnDemand is designed to support a growing organization.


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