IBI's Cactus can ease some c/s, Web development headaches

So you are managing a client/server I/S shop, facing head-on all the headaches these technologies bring to developers. The shop has installed 37 different development tools to build applications for a user base so varied it makes the Internet look single platform. The developers utilize six development languages. Let's not even mention the constant staffing nightmares. If there is an expertise out there, your unit is surely competing for it. Unfortunately, it is becoming next to impossible to find anyone with all the requisite skills needed to build client/server software. The lack of manpower can be directly traced to the horrific task of delivering client/server applications in a nice, secure, high-performance package that has become the cost of entry for enterprise level functionality.


Into this mess comes Cactus, a suite of development tools from Information Builders Inc., New York City, aimed at significantly easing the problems in this space. The Cactus tools are linked and developed to create, test and deploy open, enterprisewide business applications.

EDA allows Cactus users to connect to a variety of legacy data sources. The EDA middleware supports a number of communication protocols (TCP/IP, LU2, LU6.2, Novell, DECnet and more) and a single API to over 65 database types on 35 different platforms. The toolset supports database technologies ranging from Oracle, Sybase, Ingres and DB2 to VSAM, ISAM, Enscribe and Teradata.

Cactus allows the developer to partition an application, keeping presentation logic, business logic and data access logic separate. This partitioning of functionality can occur across a large number of enterprise platforms to allow greater flexibility in achieving scalability, performance and maintenance. Cactus provides all the tools needed to deal with every aspect of developing, testing, packaging and deploying client/server traditional applications or Web-based applications.

Cactus also allows developers to include OLE (or ActiveX) components in Cactus-created applications. This allows an OLE-compliant application access to mainframe database transactions.


Cactus comes with an intuitive front end called the Cactus Workbench. The front end provides access to the Application Manager, the Object Browser, the Form Painter and the File Painter.

The Application Manager enables the creation of the procedures (in Maintain) and file descriptions that make up an application.The Object Browser allows integration of procedures and gives users a structured view of the logic, visual objects and data of the procedures. The Form Painter is the main tool for generating front-end user interfaces (presentation logic). One nifty feature is the ability to deploy a Cactus application as either a standard client/server application, as an OLE client, or as a Web-based client driven with Web browser technology.


Cactus provides a number of features for the development of mission-critical applications. For example, the tools can re-partition an application's workload to provide scalability. In addition, network failure detection and recovery and transaction support provides reliability. Transaction support is particularly important given the ability to distribute application logic.


Cactus requires an 80386-based desktop system running Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later. The software needs 8Mb of memory and a tad under 30Mb of disk space. To use Cactus you need VGA level video, and getting around without a mouse is not feasible. IBI recommends at least 6,300Kb Windows Global memory.

The installation of the toolset is smooth and seamless. Post install configuration isn't quite so smooth and seamless, particularly the Web deployment package. Currently, changes to the Web server must be done manually. The changes are required to allow the Web server to find the HTML forms and CGI bridge programs that Cactus generates for the application.


Many enterprises began the move to Web-based management and commerce. Thus, Cactus and its ability to deploy Web-based applications is well-timed. Nonetheless, Cactus could also use a lot of improvement in just these capabilities -- it's the area that needs the most work. Hopefully, Information Builders' developers will focus on this portion of their product in future versions. Currently, Cactus Web deployment is accomplished through HTML forms and CGI links to Cactus servers, which house the business and data access logic procedures. This approach is limiting. IBI should move quickly to add Cactus code generation for Web deployment. There are some real limitations in the visual objects in a Web-based Cactus application.


Cactus was developed by Information Builders Inc. which had more than a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue in 1995. IBI is a strong company with a strong product line, so potential users should not be worried about depending on a product with a questionable future.


Information Builders Inc.

New York City

800 969-4636


Cactus is a solid offering for I/S organizations. The product should be especially attractive to those shops that do not have a huge technical staff, but have some real world requirements in the application area. It is hard to imagine how building client/server applications can be made easier, or more flexible with respect to legacy corporate data. The additions to the product to allow Web-based deployment have made Cactus a truly unique offering.

About the Author

Mike Rowan is a consulting engineer at CLAM Associates, a consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass.