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10/10/2006
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Put to the Test: CA's AllFusion Modeling Suite Version 7

Release 7 of the AllFusion ERwin Data Modeler offers a major upgrade, adding undo/redo features and a rich set of data-comparison capabilities.

Put Actions In Reverse

The Action Log is one of the highlights of the release. It lets you view the sequence of changes made and roll those changes back, if necessary. This gives ERwin a useful combination of undo/redo and reverse action features. Undo lets you undo an action sequentially, meaning undo the action and all actions after it. Reverse lets you selectively undo any action as well as its dependent actions (deleting an entity, for example, automatically undoes relationships of that entity), but it doesn't otherwise affect intermediate sequential actions. These two features will be lifesavers for many a database designer, and the ability to log actions helps in no small measure. Dare we ask CA to also provide tool tips (or status bar descriptions) for the icons in the Advisory and Action Log panes?

Another major area of improvement is in comparing data sources and generating Alter scripts, which will be particularly appreciated by database administrators supporting application development and maintenance efforts. Using the Complete Compare feature, you can compare various data sources (ERwin models, databases and so on) and generate reports that identify differences (see screenshot, below). The Complete Compare feature is loaded with options and settings (and, thus, default values) that may make it difficult to do quick comparisons, but the flexibility gained is valuable nonetheless. A bug in the Alter Script feature prevented me from filtering for a single table (another fix for the next point release).

Improvements also have been made to ERwin's Transforms feature, which provides useful, predefined shortcuts that let database designers implement design decisions quickly and semi-automatically using wizards. For example, designers can use Transforms to merge entities into a single denormalized entity, partition an entity horizontally or vertically, roll up subtype tables into the parent table or roll down the parent entity into subtype tables. The ability to undo or reverse the effects of a transform should encourage designers to exploit this useful feature.

Make The Transition

Data model files have been renamed as ".erwin" in release 7 in place of the erstwhile ".er1"; this seemingly trivial change heralds a new era. ERwin converts from version 4.1 to release 7 very smoothly, documenting the transformation cleanly. There are some changes to the ERwin Menu, but minor annoyances remain: For example, there are three separate sets of Menu options to specify user preferences: Format > Preferences, Model > Model Properties and Tools > Options. Is selecting the modeling notation a format preference or a model property? (Answer: the latter). Which of these three lets us view entity shadows and page grids? (Answer: neither; these options are specified elsewhere). I also noticed minor glitches in the user interface similar to the earlier release; this continues to be an area for further improvement.

Lastly, enhancements have been made to XML support, synchronization with AllFusion Process Modeling (though I didn't test this) and reporting (with the long-awaited, no-brainer addition of writing to PDF).

Invest In The Future

There are many good data modeling products in the market, including IBM Rational Data Architect, Sybase PowerDesigner and TeleLogic (formerly Popkin) System Architect. Although most of these products went the route of integrated multiple modeling capabilities, with data modeling as only one of the components, ERwin has stayed the course of pure data modeling. With release 7, AllFusion ERwin is once again a force to reckon with--and the product to beat. The enhancements are significant productivity boosters, and investing in the upgrade would be a smart choice for current ERwin customers. Message to CA: Investing in future (and more regular) upgrades would be a wise move for this outstanding tool.

Rajan Chandras is with the New York offices of CSC Consulting, and can be reached at rchandras@gmail.com. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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