I'm currently trying to convince management of the need to port one of our applications to .NET. The application has grown to be a bit of a monster in Access (backend in SQL), with 700 linked tables, 650 forms/subforms, 130 modules and 850 queries.
I pretty much know all the major benefits of doing this, but now need to look at how this can be achieved technically, so I can put a project plan together.
So, my plan was to convert the queries into stored procedures and/or views on the backend and re-write the forms in WPF or WinForms.
Now, the code is where I come unstuck. Is it possible to packaged up the code behind and modules into dlls and consume them whilst it is slowly ported to VB/C#?
What we can't be left with is half an application in VB/C# and half in Access, it must 'appear' to all be one application, even half way through the migration.
Thanks in advance.
EDIT: Just some more info about what we do and why we're looking at moving away from Access.
We are essentially an ISV and the Access application is our main product. This application has been developed over a period of 15 years, by many, many developers on an ad hoc basis. There is no documentation for this application.
We also have problems with getting branching in SCC to work properly, so we've currently got 4 or 5 code bases for the half a dozen clients we have. On top of that, all the testing we do is completely manual, which you can imagine is very labour intensive, and only scratches the surface of what really needs to be tested.
We're currently looking to expand, and have a number of sales leads that are in the final stages. I'm worried that with these new sales, we're going to be swamped with support and testing, and that this application is going to become even more entangled an buggy.
I'll also add to this the fact that we're just about to enter the spec phase of a brand new product, which is almost certainly going to be built in .NET. If we were to rewrite the Access application in .NET, then the people we use for that can go straight on to this new development. If we were to stay in Access, then we'd have to get some new Access people in, whom would have to be retrained once we start the new development.
So essentially it has come down to two choices, major refactoring work in Access to try and 'organise' the code a bit better, and those of you who have suggested culling parts are most probably right; I'm sure there are parts that are no longer used. However, I fear that if we stay in Access we still won't be able to build in effective testing and we still won't have proper SCC branching, which will lead to support continuing to be a nightmare, and any future developments on this product makings things worse. Either way there is a lot of work that we're about to embark on, which is either going to be done in Acces, or .NET.
I been involved in a lot of migration projects where one is converting from one platform to another. I've also seen spectacular cost overruns, and spectacular under estimations of how difficult these types of projects can be.
In some of the projects and platforms I've created and that I had built for about $25,000, the cost of replacing this application and rewriting it resulted in the other team of people taking over this project and the resulting cost was in excess of $750,000.
You're also making an assumption that the current system needs to be replaced. You MUST have clear in your mind what the actual goals of moving and replacing the current platform and software are. Simply rewriting something and moving the functionality over to another platform yields you very little, except spending a lot of money that really doesn't benefit your business of all (but hey those developers will take the money, if they convince you of the need of doing this)
You might want to take a read of this wonderful article by Joel on software (Joel by the way developed and created this forum stack overflow – and I was a moderator of some of his discussion forums for almost 10 years),. In this article, Joel warns and gives caution against out of the blue simply rewriting perfectly good software that does not rust or wear out.
**Things You Should Never Do, Part I
by Joel Spolsky
They did. They did it by making the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make:
They decided to rewrite the code from scratch.
Joel continues to note that in the past 10 years, that article still remains one of his more popular ones (and somewhat controversial)
It makes no sense to take a perfectly good running application that's been running great for 10 years and doing its job, and then simply rewrite it in another platform, especially if you don't have the Manpower and expertise and personnel available to maintain this new system. And this is especially more so, if the new systems not going to accomplish anything more than what the previous system was doing. In fact if you did have that Manpower, they'd likely already have STARTED converting this system already over time. I mean why all of sudden out of the blue did someone throw a light switch and all of a sudden realize that new developers need to be brought in to rewrite a system that's already been running fine?
I'll also point out having been in this business for a long time (both published and technical editor of access books) I also done migration projects from mainframe systems to desktops . And, I also done migration of desktop database systems to large mainframe systems .
I can only say that it is rare to see an application with that many tables. In fact this issue raises alarm bells right off the bat.
Because of such a large number of tables here, I have to think that there's likely either very many processes, and multiple applications cobble together here that represents this whole system . If this is not the case, then of course rewriting in .net does not make sense unless you address the un normalized nature of the system. The fact that the data is already in SQL server helps, but that just might mean that you had the horsepower and capacity and infrastructure to scale something that was poorly designed and the first place
A very big major portion of software flexibility comes from having properly normalized data models. The problem you have is that you have the data in SQL server, and it's very tempting to rewrite parts of the forms and functionality as .net forms, and continue to use the current existing data models. Unfortunately this put you in a bit of a rock and hard place, because you want to continue to use existing data, and start rewriting functionality in .net. However rewriting of functionality in .net without addressing the data models is a very bad idea.
In an ironic twist of fate, this is a catch 22, because likely if that system had really fantastic great designed data models, you might not even have the need to redesign and move this into .net. Access and SQL server can scale out to 100's of users with ease anway. And, access supports the use of class objects, and even source code control.
In other words keep in mind that people might be asking to rewrite this in .net because they believe the application will then magically have increased flexibility, and be able to be changed faster then that of their changing business rules. In fact often the opposite occurs, because access is a very RAD tool. This means that the frontline people can often make modifications due to business rules changing, faster than the IT Dept and their team of developers working away on the next great version of the application. And worse you don't want to saddle that IT Dept and those developers with a poor data model.
I mean, are you to now hire the IT department to build every single spreadsheet and excel for the people because are current business processes are not flexible enough? It would be wonderful if the IT Dept to go around to everybody's desk, hold their hand, and build the excel sheets CORRECTLY for everybody, but it's not practical in the real world. So in addition to taking access away from these people, you might as well take excel away from them also.
I am just pointing out that my spider sense suggests to me that the data models here are going to be a real challenge. Remember, I would always take poor code and great designed data models over the reverse (Great code, but terrible data models). The reason for this is with great data designs, then the code and applications practically write themselves. And with great data models, then the ease of which you can change for the ever changing business rules again favors great data designs over that of great code. You can also RE factor the code overtime WHEN you have good data models. So, with good data models you can move forms and functionality and the UI over into .net, and you can do this seamlessly and easily WHEN the existing data models make sense to keep.
Also it makes no sense to move to these new technologies and less you're going to introduce the possibility of introducing things like self serve web portals for the existing business processes. So, today we can now allow customers to manipulate and use some of that information that is currently locked up in the system. This might be simple as them checking the status of their orders instead of wasting valuable customer phone time. Or it might be something simple like how a major package company in Canada saved an estimated $10,000,000 in the first year of implementing their package tracking system. Or might be something as simple as allowing the customer to look up their account balance.
So right now in the marketplace, these self serve customer web portal systems allow customers to enter and use and get at their information instead of the calling up some employed within the organization who then turns around and launches the application and then manipulates the information for that customer while on the phone. Might just as well let the customer do this work! So from order status, to balances owing, to banking, or what ever it is, the real cherry model ticket today is to allow the customer to use at a cell serve web portal that represents all that valuable information that that internal application is creating .
As mentioned, you have to ask, is where is the Manpower and personnel going to come to build and maintain this application? Obviously the existing system with enormous numbers of forms and tables you are throwing out must somehow been created, and represents some significant investments of time and efforts . The key concept you have to ask, is where were those significant investments and resources coming from to build that existing application? Who is going to maintain the new system then? In other words you need to design the new system to reduce maintenance costs. (new versions of my software can reduce maintenance by as much as 10 or 15 hours per year for customer ).
At the end of the day, good software development and good designs are good designs. Using Access, or VB6, or vb.net don't matter if the system is meeting your business needs now.
I should also point out that the new version of access 2010, can create .web forms. They are XAML (zammel .net forms). I am pointing this out, because changing the front end skin from access to .net yields you VERY little unless the underlying data structures and designs are also modified to take advantages of new possible business processes that can be accomplished with new technologies (such as those cell serve web portals). Simply repaint the font ends with .net forms is really very much amounts to a waste of money in my humble opinion UNLESS other issues are being addressed such as the data model, or some type of web portal that'll improve flexibility here.
You have some great advice here already. Keep in mind this really comes down to what are the goals and reasons for these people desiring this software to be rewritten in .net. Those new goals and desires better not be based on the pretext of simply remaking the forms you have now into .net as that will really accomplish nothing at all, and will not improve their ability to address their changing business needs that the system they are currently using obviously had been doing in the past.
Good luck on this I don't think this is the kind of question that can be answered in a simple forum post, but at least you have lots to chew on here so you can get the ball rolling.