Visual Mining NetCharts Reporting Suite

REVIEWER: Arthur D. Foret, principal consultant and CTO for Partners Software Solutions Company.BACKGROUND: Partners Software Solutions Company develops innovative software solutions for its customers, specializing in the development and deployment of Web applications and technologies based on Microsoft technologies. This project was implemented while on assignment to the Pinellas County Florida School Board.

PLATFORMS: Visual Mining NetCharts Server, part of NetCharts Reporting Suite, is deployed on a Windows 2003 server. Users access the charts through their Web browser.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Pinellas County Schools was looking for an application that would provide Web access to demographic data for the schools in the district. Previously, a subset of the information delivered with NetCharts Server was created as static chart pages that were manually updated. NetCharts Server provided the technology required to allow us to collect and maintain the data in a database and create the charts dynamically as needed. NetCharts Server allowed us to create a set of dynamic Web pages that provided charts that depict the district's demographic information in an easy-to-understand set of charts. These charts give school administrators and parents the ability to compare the demographics and characteristics of all schools in the district.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Charts and tables can be created programmatically or by using the NetCharts Designer product. NetCharts Designer is a Windows application that creates the templates which NetCharts Server uses to create online reports dynamically. The design process consists of the creation of a project, the definition of its data sources, and then the charts and tables required to implement the project. NetCharts Designer also provides the ability to create ASP, ASP.NET and JSP Web pages designed to work in conjunction with NetCharts Server to use charts dynamically from a browser-based application. NetCharts Designer provides a limited set of HTML elements that can be used to create the Web pages. If an HTML element or function not available in the Designer tool is needed, they can be included by using an optional page element. Complementing NetCharts Designer is NetCharts Server. Utilizing the project files created by NetCharts Designer, NetCharts Server dynamically creates image files, in the requested format, which are then cached to improve performance. NetCharts Server is managed from a Web-based interface and provides tools to tune and monitor server performance. Project files created in NetCharts Designer are uploaded to the NetCharts Server where they are available for use in the application or Web site. NetCharts Server can be deployed on the same system as a Web server or on another server as required.

STRENGTHS: The ability to produce such a wide variety of charts (15 unique chart types, with hundreds of formatting options and variations) with little or no programming makes NetCharts Designer easy to use. By incorporating a Web page design tool in the product, users can easily deploy a total solution with minimal knowledge of Web programming.

WEAKNESSES: A mechanism to purge charts from the server cache should be considered. Charts are created on the fly as required and (if caching is turned on) cached on the server. If the underlying data is changed, charts dependent on this data need to be removed from the cache.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Products from Corda Corporation and ChartsFX were reviewed. NetCharts Reporting Suite was selected primarily for ease of use.

DELIVERABLES: Pinellas County uses NetCharts Reporting Suite to produce Web pages utilized by school district administrators and parents alike.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Visual Mining provides excellent product support. Help desk personnel are very knowledgeable about the product. Support tools include an online knowledgebase and customer support center. When needed, resources outside normal help desk channels are readily available and eager to help.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is thorough and complete. The documentation includes numerous examples that can be used as a foundation for project implementation.

NetCharts Reporting Suite
Visual Mining, Inc.
15825 Shady Grove Road
Suite 20
Rockville, MD 20850-4008

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