CATEGORY: Data Acquisition, Transformation and Replication

REVIEWER: Mike Child, chief technology officer for HPC inter@ctive.

BACKGROUND: ApartmentGuide.com, owned and operated by HPC inter@ctive, is the online version of the Apartment Guide publication, the top print directory available to apartment hunters in grocery and drug stores nationwide. With more than 1.3 million visitors and 2.1 million properties viewed each month, ApartmentGuide.com is the leading and most comprehensive online national apartment search service in the U.S.

PLATFORMS: Compaq Web servers running NT and Sun Enterprise servers running Solaris. Databases are Oracle8i.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As the number of visitors and apartment listings on ApartmentGuide.com has continued to climb steadily over the past couple of years, we needed to redesign our Web site so it was easier to maintain and more competitive. Specifically, it was becoming very difficult to maintain 17,000 apartment listings as separate HTML pages, and our customers were not getting real-time information. As a result, we decided to make our Web site dynamic, moving all 17,000 static HTML-based apartment listings into a searchable database. We implemented MERANT's DataDirect Seque-Link product for fast and reliable database access to our apartment listings. Now, when customers visit our Web site to search for an apartment, they have complete control over their search and can specify a variety of criteria to get very specific results. SequeLink enables us to quickly and reliably deliver real-time search results to thousands of customers at once ­ something we struggled to do before. Since implementing MERANT's solution, our new site is easier to maintain and provides a more robust, high- performance experience for our users.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SequeLink's architecture is the number one feature of the product. SequeLink is designed with a thin-client component that resides on our Web servers, and a server component that resides on our database servers. SequeLink provides the point-to-point connection from our Web site to our database, enabling us to quickly and efficiently integrate data across our Web site. SequeLink provides a variety of features for improving performance. For example, the thread pool engine helps us better use our server shared resources. SequeLink uses large network packets, packet chaining and deferred execution to help reduce network bandwidth requirements and improve performance. We are planning to implement SequeLink's management capabilities to help us trace our application, view details about active services and ultimately improve reliability and availability.

STRENGTHS: SequeLink's main strength is its architecture. Because SequeLink doesn't have to go through a gateway or other middleware to access and integrate data, there are no bottlenecks. Consequently, SequeLink provides outstanding performance and great scalability for thousands of concurrent users. SequeLink ensures support for increased loads, avoiding poor performance and downtime issues.

WEAKNESSES: The product's latest version ­ Version 5.0 ­ is relatively new, and we have discovered some instances in which it does not behave entirely as expected. I anticipate that most of these inconsistencies will be resolved as the product matures.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We selected SequeLink because it was the only middleware product we tested that could offer us the scalability and performance we needed for our site. Additionally, SequeLink provides functionality above and beyond the average middleware, such as total management capabilities, performance tuning options, access to multiple databases from one client component and more.

DELIVERABLES: The product retrieves answers to questions posed by visitors to our site. Specifically, our visitors are interested in finding an apartment that meets their particular needs. SequeLink is an integral part of delivering that information to the visitors.

VENDOR SUPPORT: MERANT's support is first class. The MERANT sales team put us in touch with a personal tech support representative. The tech support team went out of their way to help us, offering several options to solve our problems. They were tremendous as far as pointing us in the right direction and keeping us from going down the wrong path, so we didn't waste any time on our project. The most refreshing part was that they didn't point fingers at other vendors, but instead offered to help us whether it was their problem or not.

DOCUMENTATION: MERANT's documentation is very easy to understand. We were able to install and run the product by simply following the documentation.

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