Product Reviews

Sybase PowerDesigner Data Modeling

Eliminate "data model archeology" by analyzing your enterprise's systems to find out where data is actually being used.

Sybase Inc.'s goals for PowerDesigner are nothing if not ambitious: a single modeling tool for tracking data definitions everywhere in an organization -- and Sybase doesn't just mean databases when it says data. Sybase PowerDesigner can also model data represented in XML schemas (including .WSDL files), process languages (BPEL and ebXML), object definition languages (Visual Basic, C#, Java, IDL-CORBA) and even .XLS files, among other choices. In addition, PowerDesigner supports virtually every notation available, including the popular UML and IDEF1X notations.Heck, PowerDesigner even supports CODASYL, a notation that I used when I started doing database design, way back in 1982.

Data modeling serves two purposes: generating database schemas and documenting data stores. I used PowerDesigner to generate a SQL Server database drawn from one of my client's projects.With a tool as powerful as PowerDesigner, there's always a danger that doing the simpler things will become unnecessarily complicated -- I didn't find that with PowerDesigner. I was able to add a model to one of my existing Visual Studio projects and generate a database shortly after installing the product (you can also create standalone PowerDesiger "modeling projects" in Visual Studio). PowerDesigner isn't limited to generating just database schemas: You can also generate BPEL process files and nHibernate code, among other options.

The other purpose of data modeling is documenting data stores, which is only valuable if you can use your models to support developers, make business and design decisions and to analyze business problems. PowerDesigner supports creating reports from your models in HTML, RTF, and in a proprietary format for local printing.You can also print reference documents in "card format," which produces individual, two-column tables suitable for reference purposes.More critically, PowerDesigner lets you pick an object and follow its links to see where the data item is used -- a powerful tool when someone asks you, "What would it cost to change this?"

Automation Design Canvas integrates with Visual Studio 2008 to design and run flexible tests of Web applications
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PowerDesigner allows you to create a conceptual model using a variety of modeling notations and, from that model, generate a physical database design for almost any RDBMS.

Of course, the ability to follow those links is only useful if all of your data stores are documented in PowerDesigner. I found PowerDesigner's reverse engineering facilities to be robust and complete for the various data stores that I tested against.While I tested against the standard Microsoft tools (SQL Server and Access), PowerDesigner also supports Oracle, DB2 and MySQL (again, among other database engines).

Given its pricing and functionality, PowerDesigner is not for the faint hearted -- and it's also not for those with limited goals. If all you need is a database design tool for your organization's RDBMS, PowerDesigner is far more tool than you need. But if you want to create a repository for analyzing your organization's data usage, PowerDesigner will do the job.

Automation Design Canvas 1.1
Sybase Inc.
Price: $2,995 to $7,495 per developer seat
Quick Facts:One-stop shopping for data modeling and analysis using a variety of notations.
Pros:High functionality with support for all the tools that Microsoft developers use.
Cons:Expensive; PowerDesigner is a big tool to handle big problems -- not a tool for developers just needing a database modeling tool.

About the Author

Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His blog posts on user experience design can be found at

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