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Microsoft readies Host Integration Server 2004

Microsoft has announced the imminent availability of Host Integration Server 2004 in a bid to compete with IBM's WebSphere.

The newest edition of Host Integration Server, which replaces the 2000 version, is designed to make it easier for users to link Windows systems with IBM mainframes and midrange AS/400 servers, known as iSeries servers.

"Host Integration Server 2004 is one of the only products that is aimed at bridging a Microsoft world and a non-Microsoft world," said Steven Martin, lead product manager for the business process and integration division at Microsoft.

The software features a new transaction integrator that has been extended to cover AS/400 systems, allowing users to take mainframe and AS/400 applications and publish them as web services using the Microsoft .Net Framework and Visual Studio .Net developer tools, Martin said.

Microsoft will offer Host Integration Server in a Standard Edition and an Enterprise Edition. The Standard Edition will cost $2,499 (£1,400) per processor while the Enterprise Edition will run $9,999 (£5,475) per processor.

The Enterprise Edition will include additional functionality, such as a Microsoft Message Queuing to MQSeries Bridge, which integrates the MSMQ Windows and MQSeries IBM messaging platforms and enables messages to be transferred in either direction across platforms.

Microsoft has about 8,500 Host Integration Server customers, consisting mainly of large enterprises that use Host Integration Server in branch offices for access to applications and data on IBM mainframes or AS/400 machines, said Paul Larsen, group programme manager for Microsoft's business process and integration division.

One user is Tom Taglianetti, a platform architect with Fiserv LeMans, which sells software and services for the auto finance industry. "Our interest in the product is primarily for its application integration capabilities with Cics technology," he said.

The company used the server primarily to allow Microsoft distributed Common Object Model  applications to communicate with Cics Cobol transactions programs, Taglianetti said.

He singled out the transaction integrator. "It provides a natural migration from COM-based programming to .Net programming with no host changes," he said.

Additionally, Taglianetti praised the host-initiated processing feature within the transaction integrator. "It allows a Cics host transaction program to invoke a .Net C# class using the well-known Cics Link command. By using this feature to refactor a legacy logical unit 6.2 interface, we've been able to eliminate our Systems Network Architecture gateway and simplify our disaster contingency requirements."

But IBM will not simply concede its market share to Microsoft and a large number of IBM customers will continue to prefer WebSphere while many developers will still favour Java, said Peter O’Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group.

"We're going to see some very healthy competition in this space. Both IBM and Microsoft have very expansive tools and systems at this point and both are doing a very effective job of providing options and integrated offerings to their customer base," he said.

"They are going to try and leapfrog each other in terms of new product offerings. But between the two of them, they are going to continue to dominate this market."

Laura Rohde writes for IDG News Service

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