ApexSQL Report is designed for flexibility and fast
turnaround of reporting in a dynamic Rapid Application
Development environment. The current version (v4.3) is ASP
based, with v5 coming out soon in ASP.NET.
The key with ApexSQL Report is that it utilizes existing
stored procedures by analyzing the procedure's meta data to
create filters to select user criteria and automatically create
report tables. This is useful in a busy development environment
as it provides immediate access the result-sets from those
stored procedures. Reports are delivered in HTML so there
is no need to know any HTML, as well Excel. More output formats
are in the works. The Report tool makes it easy to build graphs,
tables, charts and spreadsheets. ApexSQL Report comes with a
copy of Fusion Charts, and has a powerful Admin console to
enable the creation of reports, users, groups and managing which
stored procedures used for the reports.
Installation was fairly painless. I unzipped the file
provided into directory (in my case I put it straight into C:\InetPub on my laptop, but in a proper environment no doubt you
manage it location easily enough through IIS and virtual
directories). There are a few other steps to do such as
configuring the globals file, etc - but if you follow the
directions provided you can't go wrong. If you do fluff
it, maybe IT is not your game after all...
There is a script which needs to be run into the database you
which to report from which will create a few tables (11) and
stored procedures (9) which it needs to drive it's objects.
These are easy to spot as the tables all have a 'asprpt_tbl_'
prefix and the procs have 'asprpt_prc_'.
Using ApexSQL Report
I found the product very easy and intuitive to use. I
purposefully avoided the using the (rather good) help
documentation in order to get an idea of how "easy it was
to figure out" - and it was. Any developer familiar
with creating web based reports should have no problems figuring
their way around what I found to be a very intuitive interface.
Having said that, once I did read the documentation I found it
was clear and useful.
There is a login screen with takes a default password to get
you started, but from there you can easily navigate around the
menu system as shown:
Setting up the reports for use was easy and
straight-forward. From the administration menu the user
navigates to a maintenance page which allows you to see a list
of the stored procedures in the database which the user can then
choose for their reports:
There are similar maintenance pages for creating
user groups and managing the users allocated to those groups.
Once user groups have been setup and configured, reports can
also be added to these groups providing a sort of role-based
security model for the reports. I say "sort of"
because all user details are stored in clear text in the
database, and I have seen too many organizations where database
security is pretty sloppy and users could potentially have
access to this information. This is clearly not Lockwood's
fault, and there is little they can do if DBA's are sloppy about
security protocols, however it is something to be borne in mind
if you choose to go down this road.
Once ApexSQL Report has been "made
aware" of the stored procedures these can then be used to
create the reports. The next image shows the maintenance screen which one uses to create and categorize
the reports. Again, like most things about the product, I
found this to be intuitive and very easy to figure out.
For my sample I just created some stored procedures that read
the Category Sales and Product Sales views in Northwind.
The next image (below) shows the output from a stored procedure, and as you can
see the report is clean and well formatted. There is a
function list at the top of the column to sum, average, count,
etc the values in each column. I guess this has good and
bad connotations. I liked the idea of being able to choose
a function (sum, average, count, etc) on the fly, but I was a
bit bugged by the fact that there was no ability to add any
Totals to the reports (unless I toyed around with the stored
procedure to get a total). The same thing is there when
exporting to Excel, so this is where I found the usefulness of
the reports to be a bit limiting.
The next image shows a sample report with a graph attached. ApexSQL Report
produces a good, clean graph, and there are a number of options
which can be set to give the developer a fair bit of control
over the formatting of the chart. I did feel a little cheated
however because the chart page still displays a 'Create Excel'
button, which simply copies the dataset (not the graph) into
Another useful option which I found (especially in a
development environment!) is a 'diagnostic' option (which essentially does a scan of the stored procedures
used to make "all is well." If there are any issues
(such as a stored procedure getting deleted or renamed, etc)
then this can be managed accordingly.
When using ApexSQL Report I did not need any technical
assistance, but I did have some questions which were answered
promptly. The website has a support section on it which
appears well used, and answers to queries seem quick and
efficient. As far as the product goes, there are no
support costs and Lockwood offer free upgrades for life.
ApexSQL Report is very easy in intuitive to use, and as long
as your stored procedures return good data, your reports will be
quick, clean and well formatted. There are a lot of
features which make a very useful for RAD developments. There
are a number of features which would be useful to have such as
grouping, subtotal/totaling etc - but perhaps these will be
addressed in subsequent versions. I know that version 5.0
will include an XML interface for better performance and
integration with XSL style sheets for custom reporting, which
would probably address some of the issues I raised above.
|Ease of Use||5||Intuitive and self-explanatory.|
|Feature Set||3||Does what it sets out to do, but I do
think that the reports need to provide some sort of
'extended features' such as grouping and totaling,
drill-down, etc if the product is going to stay relevant
on the future.
|Technical Support||NA||Not tested, but from the way it looks
at the support site I think it would easily rate a 4 or
even 5 if needed.
|Documentation||5||Standard documentation format (.chm),
was complete and covered all my needs.
|Installation||5||Absolutely no problems at all.|
|Learning Curve||4||No problem starting to work with the
application directly without reading any documentation.
|Overall||4||Overall a good product that solves the
problems it sets out to do. There some issues and
features which I've come expect seeing some of the other
reporting tools out there which will need to be
addressed (as per the feature set comments above) but
most of these will probably be solved in future version,
and lifetime upgrades are included!
Pricing: $995 (1 Developer License) There are no support
costs and this includes free upgrades for life.