Forward-looking competitors now view the Web as an essential element in their competitive toolset. Many companies now use Internet and intranet Web sites to disseminate marketing materials, financial statements, product training and technical support, internal company memos and other information. Companies are also creating interactive and highly customized applications to enable customers to buy products and services directly through the Web. The global reach of Web technology allows companies to extend their product and service offerings to new markets more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

Informix has introduced a universal Web architecture, anchored by its Universal Web Connect technology, which allows developers to create and manage dynamic, intelligent Web applications. Unlike competing Web solutions (which store Web applications as flat files and scripts in the operating system directory), Informix Universal Web Connect stores the entire Web application content--including application templates, HTML files, images, maps, photos and other data--within the Informix database itself.

Because it is tightly integrated with the Informix database server, this unique approach allows virtually any data type to be dynamically retrieved directly from the database itself. It addresses and overcomes the limitations and incompatibilities native to existing CGI, NSAPI and ISAPI middleware solutions. Object-relational extensions enable users to perform content-based queries at the SQL3 level. The Universal Web Connect solution also delivers a highly reliable persistent application state, optimum security, and browser and server independence.

Within this universal Web architecture, Informix offers two distinct Web- based database strategies. In one variation of the Universal Web Connect approach, browser actions activate SQL code that is embedded directly in the Web page, and those SQL requests pull information from the enterprise database. This technique, which is essentially an extension of the traditional HTML Web page formatting language, gives the Web user security-protected access to anything stored on the database, including traditional alpha-numeric data types, images, spreadsheets, audio or even fully rendered and ready-to-display HTML Web pages. Universal Web Connect also offers other highly flexible HTML-extension possibilities.

One obvious and very potent advantage to this pathway is that the Web application can be designed to respond dynamically and very quickly to the selections chosen by the user. On its own Web page, Informix makes dramatic use of this capability by asking the viewer to enter geographic and topical preferences--then employing Universal Web Connect to build a virtual newspaper custom-tailored to suit that viewer's specific interests.

Informix also offers a second Universal Web Connect strategy, which like the alternative service-driven technologies, employs enterprise-resident programming to accept queries from the Web server, interface with the database, and then load the results into the Web page. This approach uses an improved CGI-like interface to build the enterprise-based programming. Based on selections by the user, the browser executes a CGI script to the "service," and the transaction takes place as a self-contained unit of work at the enterprise-resident programming site.

Organizations which plan to expand and upgrade their use of database-connected Web strategies should examine closely their need for reliable access, manageability and scalability, security and other issues before selecting a Web-enabled database strategy. As described here, the industry now offers two primary schools of Web/database thought--and while the differences between these approaches may seem subtle, each offers very distinct and measurable performance advantages.

The service-driven solutions offered by BEA Systems, Transarc or other suppliers make use of specialized JAVA classes, stored at the Web server, that talk directly to services at the enterprise database location. This arrangement allows the browser application to participate in a true OLTP environment and to execute highly specific service actions against multiple machines and diverse databases--all as a single atomic unit of work and all controlled directly from the browser.

By comparison, the Informix Universal Web Connect pathway offers a solution that is optimized for a homogeneous Informix database environment. It provides HTML extensions to allow for SQL to be embedded in the Web pages, the complete content of the Web site to be stored in the database, and a subset of the functionality allowed for in the service-driven solution.

Security, of course, remains an issue whenever companies open their enterprise database to exchange information via Web-driven access. Developers and IS managers are erecting ever more sophisticated firewalls, multilevel password protection and other measures to allow maximum access to authorized users, while guaranteeing optimum security for the enterprise database.

Internet commerce is now a reality. The promise of the Web- enabled database is vast and truly revolutionary. Competitors who build strong, secure bridges between the Web and their databases will hold a powerful competitive advantage in the emerging arena of electronic commerce.

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