Database Guru James F. Koopmann Reviews DBxtra Reporting and Query Tool


DBxtra is a powerful query and reporting tool that hides many of the complexity and technical expertise required for creating connections to disperse data sources, building queries, designing reports, and delivery information throughout an enterprise or to your customer base.

With the ability to connect to multiple databases or data sources at the same time, DBxtra allows for cross platform data aggregation and the ability to answer questions that would typically take IT time to migrate data into a single reporting database. Through powerful query and filtering mechanisms users have the ability to browse and achieve fine grained retrieval of data to answer detailed business questions.

DBxtra uses a project level approach and Explorer type tree structure to categorize database and DBxtra objects that facilitates the production queries and reports. This explorer tree structure drastically improves the reusability of objects, speed in access to information, and reduces the man-hours required to design and produce subsequent reports.

The production of reports can be produced in a variety of formats including HTML, Microsoft Excel, CSV, XML, or PDF with the option to be merged into personalized E-mails. Also available is a visual report designer where your choice of formatting options can be employed to produce just the right look for your report.

DBxtra comes very close to their goal of "no programming or database knowledge required". All the while creating a new breed of power end-users.

Getting familiar with DBxtra

How a product "feels" is always a big concern when delivering a product that will actually improve the productivity of end users and reduce the burden on IT. I personally like to try a product without reading the documentation. While I have years of experience as a DBA, analyst, developer, and data modeler I honestly try to block all that information out of my mind to "feel" what it would be like to operate under limited expectations. The only mind-block I needed to get over was double clicking on objects to activate their usage. Honestly if I would have read the help on the top and bottom of the screens this could have been eliminated.

DBxtra has a very nice step by step approach, almost like an Install Shield approach, that drives you through creation of queries and reports. Once getting use to clicking through this stepwise approach I was building queries and reports quicker than I could think of examples to model. All of which I didn't need to know anything about data models other than identification of which database my tables where. The only database modeling concepts that end users need to understand are tables, columns, joins, filters, sorting, and aggregate functions. All of which are very teachable and most end users understand a large subset of these concepts.

DBxtra comes with a load of documentation including tutorials and video streams. All of which are very helpful and will walk you through the major features of this product. I watched all the tutorial videos and picked up some valuable hints on how to use the product. It is very unusual for vendors to go to this length to educate their end users. I read this as a true commitment on the vendor's side to make sure you are able to use the product and it not to become shelf-ware. Very admirable!

Another training aid is the shipment of a sample data source, with queries, reports, and schedules. This allows you to quickly dive into the product and get a good feel for the product without ever touching your data sources. Of course you will eventually want to produce some queries and reports against your databases as there is nothing better for determining the effectiveness and usefulness than seeing your own data.

Corporate Profile
Quanticus S.A. de C.V. is a software developer located in Querétaro, México. We have more then 10 years experience in developing database software tools and ERP software for the small and medium sized company. Our staff includes 4 administrative, 8 sales, 6 support and 12 developers people. The company was established about 4 years ago. The product DBxtra was released November 2004. Morelos 166B Col. Centro Querétaro, Qro. C.P. 76000 México Tel.: +52 (442) 215 44 96 USA: (201) 399 22 18

Problems Solved

Can your end users get to the data they need? How often do they need to wait for a developer to provide assistance in the extraction of vital information? It does not matter if you are part of the executive team or an end user. Often times when you want to get to information from a database or restricted system you need to request work to be done on your behalf. You are at the mercy of your IT staff and in particular developers, data analysts, data administrators.

With DBxtra end users are liberated from the ever-increasing queue that is experienced every time they need IT staff to produce reports or extract data. DBxtra allows users to access multiple data sources in disperse database systems and pull information from these sources in a systematic pint and click fashion. The ease in which it is to produce reports, and more importantly alter reports when business rules change, will have a drastic impact and increased productivity for your end users while also reducing the burden on IT.

Since DBxtra can connect to most any database or data source, you can provide a tool the is truly cross-platform independent. This actually reduces the toolset required, provides a single access point to data, and reduces training requirements.

Who should use it

Anyone who wants to produce quality reports or just query data in an ad hoc manor can benefit from DBxtra. With a powerful toolset DBxtra assists end users as well as the IT staff. in the categorization and processes around defining where information is, how it is retrieved, and who needs the information. Developers, analysts, and DBAs will benefit from this tool as they interrogate data across multiple systems.

Working with DBxtra

Below is presented with my experiences working with the DBxtra product. While the demos and tutorials take you through many of the feature set it is highly recommended you use the product to see how it works in your environment.

When you first start up DBxtra you are prompted to accept the license agreement and then need to create a DBxtra database for housing reports. Within the directory you supply to house the DBxtra database a new directory will be created along with a .mdb (Microsoft database) file. While using DBxtra additional directories and files may be created in this directory. I was then prompted to create an administrator password for the Microsoft database and then required to login. These few setup procedures and only need to be done once and were not time intensive.

All work is done through projects and you will need to create one before producing any report or querying any data. After you have defined a project you can define the connections to databases and add database objects to use within the newly created project. I was very happy to experience an error free mechanism for creating connections to Oracle, SQL Server, and Microsoft Excel.

After defining a project and adding database objects to it you are then put into the Data Explorer. The Data Explorer is the heart of the organizational system for DBxtra where you access and place objects such as database objects, reports, and queries. Data Explorer is a tree structure that, as you get familiar with the toolset, allows for easy retrieval and quick access to previously defined objects. At this point it is a nice place to click the "Show Data" option and prove to yourself the ease at which DBxtra can extract information from different data sources. You may also at this point get familiar with one of the more powerful filtering mechanism through the "Show field values" option. With this feature you can extract values for an object that can be used in equality matches on columns. Just click the "Show field values" box, select a field for the equality operation, and magically you can use the drop down list and assign a value for the equality. Powerful and very user-friendly. Now just hit the "Show Data" button to return the filtered result set.

Query Builder allows for the definition and saving of queries within the Data Explorer tree structure. Defining a query is accomplished through naming the query, selecting data sources, selecting objects for the query, building relationship and filters where necessary, and then possibly sorting the data. As you use DBxtra you will soon notice that tabs across the top of the screens present the order in which you should follow. It is an easy approach to define the object or procedure you are building and very intuitive at the same time. I personally like things that have a definite flow and DBxtra provides that for me.

Building reports where again just as easy. Just follow the script presented in the tabs on the screen. Reports have the ability to be exported to text, XML, PDF, Microsoft Excel, and HTML. A unique feature of the DBxtra is to export the report to a Microsoft Excel pivot table and chart where the Excel spreadsheet is pre-built with a constant connection to the data sources. Whenever the database is updated and the user of the Excel report presses the refresh button the data in the spreadsheet is also updated.

Other options that I did not try were the E-mailing and scheduling of reports. I did watch the demos and looked at the screens. Again the common thread of the step by step tabular approach existed in these options and thus presented no surprises. An interesting feature was the ability to write a simple e-mail merge operation that allows for the sending of a report in an email while tailoring the e-mail on merge fields for personalization.

Hardware / Software Requirements

? Processor 600Mhz
? 128 MB RAM
? 25 MB available space on hard disk drive
? Microsoft Windows 98 SE or later
? Microsoft Excel 97 & Outlook 97 for higher level features

Download and Installation

You can get a free 15 day trial off DBxta's web site at http://www.DBxtra.com/DBxtra/registro.asp

If you would like to keep in touch with DBxtra and receive some free support and other valuable information about using the product while you are in trial then you should give them your name. But name registration is not required for the free trial. As an interesting feature to the download, if you decide to not purchase by the end of the trial the product deprecates itself from the Professional Edition into the Free Edition. I have never seen this before and like the concept because you don't need to worry about removing the product. Plus at the end of the trial you still have a product that is usable. The download and installation went very swiftly with a clean and very few clicks to install the software.

License

There are three distinct products for DBxtra that include a standard, professional, and report viewer. After a trial period of 15 days the product deprecates to a free version. Pricing is currently available for a single concurrent user and you are given price breaks as the number of concurrent users increase. This ranges from around 25%-33% depending on how many licenses you buy. Also to note is that the license is for concurrent users and not for installed copies of DBxtra. This means that you can install everywhere and use where you like. The pricing is very reasonable in my opinion and depending on the number of licenses you purchase you can put the power of data extraction into end users for less than $150 USD. Support is free as are upgrades for year 2005.

Rudolf Vanek

See more information: www.dbxtra.com">http://www.dbxtra.com


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