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The Cloud

By Richard Morris, Posted on May 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Star date 16 May, Consultants log 1. At three pm this afternoon I was arriving at Manchester airport expecting to catch a 40 minute flight over to Belfast for a relaxing evening before visiting customers on Monday morning. Six hours later I’m sat on the desk of a Norforkline ferry with a seven hour crossing ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against ferries, but this one is predominantly filled with drunken football fans, screaming kids, and high octane, beer swilling, diesel fragranced truck drivers, and there is not a spare chair to be had. Camping out on the floor is my only option. First class travel!

We’re half way through our road trip of the UK – we being Bill Mooney and myself. The first half of the trip started off just peachy. Some great customer visits and some lovely British scenery to drive through – and drive we have. We have covered hundreds of miles in the last three days, but it’s a small cloud of dust that threatened to halt our travels. Did this daunting fact stop Bill in his tracks? I think not!

The volcano in Iceland has again decided to spew out more dust into our ever so fragile atmosphere. The resulting cloud has grounded flights around the UK yet again. So, sat in a local bar, every bit of modern computing and communications equipment to hand, we set about attempting to find a resolve to our predicament. No cloud was going to stop us from visiting our customers!

Several calls, web searches and dead-ends later we hatched the plan. The trouble was so did everyone else. We were not alone in our quest to reach the emerald island. With all planes grounded, and both of us not remembering our swimming trunks, our only option seemed to be to sail. Our options were limited – we needed to reach a port within the next couple of hours to have any chance of securing a berth. And so began our “great adventure”.

The drive over to Liverpool was rather eventless. On arrival at the wrong port (freight only) we were guided to the passenger terminal, some ten miles away. On arrival Bill made a dash for the check-in desk. Knowing Bill as I do, I parked up and hot-footed it over just in time. “Ya, that’ll do fine” and heard Bill say as he was handing over his credit card. “What will?” I inquired. “It’s OK, they have room for us.” On further interrogation is transpired that “room” actually meant “any space you can find on the floor”. There were no cabins left, and the boat was completely full. “Full” actually means “more people than the facilities on the boat can handle”. But the customer always comes first, I thought to myself. Tickets booked, car loaded onto the ferry, and here I am, sat on the floor wondering what sleep I may actually get, knowing I have a two plus hour drive to Belfast ahead of me – at five the following morning. And the prospect of a shower a distant dream.

Then I started to notice a smartly dressed gentleman winking at me? Not sure of his intentions and cornered (did I forget to mention Bill had left me to watch over our bags while he assembled his tripod and camera and set off around the ship to “capture the moment”?) I was concerned, to say the least. Should I try to carry all the bags and run? “Hey son”, shouted the winking man. “We’ve got you a cabin!” It turns out the very nice gentlemen had a slight affliction in his right eye, but how was I to know that? The news was greeted with much joy, “And one for Bill?” I inquired. “You’ll be lucky, you’re sharing!” Now I’ve known Bill for many years, but sharing a small cabin on a rocking ferry has never been very high on my bucket list. But, needs must, and the customer always come first, I thought.

Very little sleep (due to a snoring Bill) was rudely interrupted by the crew banging on the cabin door at four am. “Breakfast is served”. Still, we had a cabin, and it had a shower! OK, let’s clarify – a gently dripping faucet and a shower curtain that gets blown about and actually wraps around you as you attempt to wash. Not the best start to an early morning. Breakfast was nice, or at least it looked nice. I’d no sooner sat down with my full English when the PA announced “would all car passengers please return to their cars immediately”.

We were soon off the boat, and heading up the motorway towards Belfast. Both customer visits were a great success, and to be honest well worth the effort. We were booked on the return ferry from Dublin to Liverpool on Monday evening. Did we make it……


Challenges Facing Synergy Developers

By synergexadmin, Posted on at 4:09 pm

I was recently involved in a discussion concerning Synergy tools and technologies, and how our customers can best position themselves to take advantage of them. Somewhere along the way, I was asked for (or I volunteered – I don’t exactly remember) my opinion about the current software development landscape, and the challenges that face so many of our customers today.

I identified three areas of concern for our customer base and the future of their applications. And since you’re reading this, I assume that you are a Synergy customer, so hopefully what I had to say will strike a chord with you – either as a challenge you’ve already faced and overcome, or as an issue with which you’re currently grappling.

GUI is King

Yes, you’ve heard it a million times before, but unfortunately you’re going to keep hearing about it until you’ve updated the look and feel of your application. The continued survival of almost every solution boils down to implementing one of two main GUI choices: web technologies or Windows .NET (which means WPF, SilverLight or WinForms).

If you were reading that last part carefully, you’ll note that this discussion is not targeted solely at the *nix and OpenVMS operations; if you’re on Windows already, but are still using the same UI Toolkit displays that your app was using years ago (i.e., you’re not incorporating .NET technologies with the Synergy/DE .NET API), then you’re in the same boat as everyone else.

Arguments about the efficiency of character-based data entry are still valid, but they’re becoming less and less relevant (or realistic) – particularly if you’re using the speed of data entry as an excuse to allow the rest of your application to wallow. While you may have several “workhorse” data entry screens, chances are they make up a very small percentage of your overall application. Information displays, reports, “look-ups” or maintenance utilities have no reason to be tied down to a cell-based presentation.

GUI’s are simply too pervasive and too familiar to ignore, and purely cell-based software solutions cannot hope to compete for much longer. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of your application, the ones who can see beyond the green screen or the pseudo-Windows of Toolkit to the power of your application, will readily agree that it’s becoming more and more difficult to convince new hires (or prospective customers) of the superiority of your Synergy solution.

And I’m not just talking to the Synergy shops that develop vertical applications which are then distributed and sold; Synergy “end users,” the shops that have an in-house, custom-built Synergy solution, need to take note as well. Serious scrutiny of your Synergy application is coming with the next management or executive-level turnover.

Perception is Reality

We’ve all heard the term before, but I think it would be better stated as “People act on perception as if it is reality.”

One of the most common (mis)perceptions in today’s society is “newer is better.” It’s beat it into to us at every turn and in every advertisement, from New and Improved Acme glass cleaner to Next Best Thing flat panel televisions. And unfortunately, a cell-based UI isn’t doing you any favors in this department. Cell-based apps are generally looked at as “old,” “outdated,” “legacy,” or simply (my favorite) “DOS.” It’s this perception that gives rise to a host of other concerns and questions. Interoperability. Reliability. Power.

But perhaps the most dangerous questions are the ones that aren’t asked. If the users of your application generally see it as a throwback to a bygone era, then it’s possible – nay, likely – that it never even occurs to them to ask the right questions. Can it communicate with Brand X’s software? Can it display graphs that give a visual indication of the state of your sales? Does it offer a web service? Does it support ad hoc reporting? These questions are the sales points from competing software vendors, and rest assured that management has heard the pitches – whether it be the CEO at your customer’s company, or the management team of your own.

Remember: Your UI is the gateway to the power of your application. If it looks like something that was distributed on a 5 ¼” floppy, then it’s time to seriously rethink the front end of your application.
Now is the Time to Act

The current recession has made life difficult for almost everyone. Sales are down, money is tight, and thoughts of corporate expansion have been put on hold.

For the past two years or so, companies simply don’t have the money to invest in a brand new software solution, whether it be an ERP package to replace your in-house software, or a glossy, glitzy, Windows-and-SQL-based solution from your competitor. If you’re wise, you’ll look at this period as a reprieve from increasingly heavy competition, and as an opportunity to throw development efforts into high gear.

Use the time to ensure that your software has every last competitive edge when the wheels of the economy start moving again. Take advantage of the lull in sales and expansion, and incorporate the latest and greatest that Synergy has to offer. Put a GUI on your application – even if it needs to be one screen at a time. Use the Synergy.NET API to enhance the look and feel of the most commonly-used screens of your Toolkit application. Make the small investment in Synergy SQL Connect, and set up a data warehouse that can be used by SQL Reporting Services, or open up the data in your system to other commonly-used software by utilizing Synergy xfODBC. Create a web portal, add a web service or two, and take advantage of the APIs and web services of other software solutions to enhance your own.

In Conclusion…

I want it known for the record that I’m a huge fan of Unix/Linux, and absolutely love OpenVMS, so understand that I’m not advocating a switch to the Windows OS. Remember that you can still take advantage of the reliability and stability of both *nix and VMS backend systems, and just bolt on a Windows GUI client wherever appropriate. Heck, chances are that your users are already using Windows boxes running VT emulator software anyways, so there’s probably no hardware investment that need concern you.

And there are plenty of methods available to leverage your core systems and routines if you’re one of the many Synergy shops currently running a “green screen” solution. Investigate xfODBC, SQL Connect, xfServer and xfServerPlus. Install and play around with the (free) Synergy Data Provider for .NET, and get yourself acquainted with Windows- or web-based technologies, programming languages and development environments. Start cleaning up your code and separate that business logic from the UI components – it may not be as hard as you think.

A little research and a small investment in time will go a long way toward illuminating the path of a better, more robust and more marketable software solution.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have a story that’s relevant, or want to share your own challenges and solutions to the GUI problems or perceptions you’ve faced? Let us know about them, and let’s get the discussion started.


Counting on Synergy

By Richard Morris, Posted on May 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm

One of our customers, Ibcos Computers, has used Synergy/DE to develop a web server. It may sound a bit bland, but it’s actually quite cool. In simple terms they have a server program running, written in Synergy, which accepts inbound resource requests. Each request then causes a child processes (again in Synergy) to be created to honour the request and return the required data. That data may be a web page, an image, or data as a result of executing some existing Synergy logic from their application.

Well, so far so good. The web server application works a treat. They can host complete web sites, and execute tried and tested logic from their Synergy application accessing their Synergy DBMS data. However, the way the Synergy/DE licensing works means that every time a child processes is created it consumes a Synergy license. This is a very valid situation – you are running a Synergy process, so you consume a Synergy license. Although you are running a Synergy process, that process may simply be locating and returning a resource associated with a web page, for example an image. When a web browser is loading a page from a web server it will asynchronously request many page resources at the same time. This means for a single page the web server may have many child processes executing, so the page can load quicker. It can be argued that although there are a number of live processes, each consuming a Synergy license, there is actually only one user, or client, which is the web browser.

Ibcos also have additional execution models for their web server. They have client applications that “log-in” to the site, execute Synergy logic to process data, then “log-out”. For this model, each connection does, and should, consume a Synergy runtime.

The challenge here is to reliably and accurately count the number of users actually accessing the web server. From a licence enforcement aspect, each resource is allocating a Synergy runtime license. However, Ibcos require a license entitlement model that would allow them to monitor individual types of connections, and be able to identify when pools of connections actually relate to an individual user.

For a solution Ibcos looked towards Synergex. I wrote a specification and they commissioned us to write the required code to utilise the Synergy/DE Licensing Toolkit to monitor license usage. Ibcos can use the Synergy/DE Licensing Toolkit to create and register licensed products within the Synergy/DE License Manager. As the different user types access the Web server, license slots are allocated and released, as required, around the logic being processed. A background process has been written that monitors license usage every five seconds. This information is stored and a program to report on license usage levels has been created. Synergex can then utilise this information to assist Ibcos with their license entitlement requirements.

Ibcos Computers, based in Poole, England, provides software solutions, written in Synergy, to the Agricultural, Ground Care, Construction, Material Handling, Commercial Vehicle and Industrial Dealer markets. Ibcos Gold, their main Synergy/DE UI Toolkit based application, has an installed base of over 500 customers and utilise the latest version 9.3 capabilities.

If you would like more details about License Enforcement and Entitlement, and the synergy Licensing Toolkit you can comment against this blog, email me at richard.morris@synergex.com, or visit the resource pages at www.synergyde.com.


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