If ever there was a good example of just how out of touch the pundits are with reality it is the burgeoning terminal emulation market. Rumours of its death abound with monotonous regularity; in the real world it is the Terminator who is out of a job at both the traditional terminal emulation and the newer thin client markets.
Where Arnie is flexing his muscles is to terminate all those thick clients which the major consultancies have been pushing over the past decade.
The real problem with terminal emulation is its image. As Allan Jones, vp international at NetMange, points out: 'Unless you can put an 'e' in front of it, terminal emulation just isn't sexy.
'Two big things in its favour are that it's very easy to install and has a very strong return on investment (RoI). We are finding plenty of sites which want to replace their fat desktops with thin clients, especially web to host,' he adds.
Generally speaking, all the suppliers from IBM downwards are experiencing record sales figures, although there needs to be care in interpreting the growth potential.
IBM's programme director for WebSphere integration, Stuart McIrvin, says: 'We have been in this market for nearly 15 years, and we are starting to find that real growth from the traditional 3270 and 5250 market is flat.
'So the only way we can maintain real growth is to start taking market share from our competitors. Currently we have about 43 per cent of this market, with Attachmate in second place with 29 per cent.
'The web to host terminal emulation market (including HTML based products and our own Host Publisher) is very healthy. We experienced 80 per cent growth in 1999. This gave IBM 33 per cent of the market with Attachmate on 17 per cent,' he points out.
Does IBM expect a major push to web to host from thick client and traditional green screen? McIrvin replies: 'The transition has been slower than the industry expected. The major consultancies expected everyone to move to web to host by the end of 2002. We now expect this to happen by the end of 2005.
'There is retrenchment because the traditional terminal emulation market is very cost-effective and easy to install. Our research shows that most sites are still looking to move to an e-biz model.
'We see two market drivers; the legacy end is being pushed via browser technology, while new applications are being pulled by e-biz technology like Simware's Salvo.
'Over the next two or three years, we expect to see most sites moving to the applications server model and making appropriate host access investments to deliver that strategy,' he adds.
There are some suppliers who see terminal emulation as having little future. Paul Robinson, business development director at NCD, believes that deploying dumb terminals for 3270 and 5250 jobs will restrict users' options for the future.
He adds: 'Most sites not only require straightforward terminal emulation, but also need other back office systems and applications, such as Microsoft Office and rich e-mail. The migration into the PC environment is to provide these additional services.'
However, Robinson concedes that there are RoI and total cost of ownership (TCO) issues which come with PC networks. For example, one administrator can look after many hundreds of green screens, but less than 100 PCs. The upgrade spiral also needs to be understood before making a commitment to these devices.
He adds: 'Alternatively green screen terminals can be replaced with windows based terminals which include terminal emulation packages. This means that sites can be safe in the knowledge that when they are ready to deploy windows-type applications and the more rich productivity tools, they can do so without changing the desktop, by using the likes of Microsoft's Terminal Server Services.
'This delivers both the flexibility of PCs with the low TCO of green screens,' Robinson says.
Seagull disagrees that terminal emulation will fade away. Scott McMillan, vp of sales, points out that many types of users prefer to use green screens, for reasons of efficiency of speed. These are what he calls power users, and include data entry clerks, programmers and help desk operatives.
He adds: 'Many sites are finding out just how expensive it is to upgrade from green screens to fat clients. Independent research in the US shows the TCO per desk for PC fat client is $7,000 per year. This compared badly with the TCO for green screen - and this is why we expect to see a lot more browser technology rolled out. This tends to be self-administered, and has a much lower TCO of as little as $300 per desk per year.'
WRQ's UK managing director Bob Stream believes that lower training costs and less urgency to move away from host-centric computing will also ensure a long life for the terminal emulation market.
He says: 'What users really want is a friendly look and feel - and terminal emulation also makes it easy for the site to restrict what external users are allowed to see.' The pundits are always keen to say that the UK lags behind the US in adoption of new technologies. How true is this - or are there different market pressures at work?
Ian Platt, managing director of Ericom Software, believes traditional terminal emulation software will continue to be bought in volume for some time yet.
He believes the pressures are either from the Government, or when that organisation is under-going a review. Platt adds: 'The Government is pushing local government to make all systems web-enabled by 2005 - although most electors still won't be on the internet by then - and the NHS strategy for electronic patient records (EPR) will force most trusts onto thin client, as this is a requirement for Level 3.
'Y2K has also concentrated a lot of minds on the true costs of fat clients and PC networks. By moving to thin client/terminal emulation we are finding that sites are making savings of up to 66 per cent. The pricing models, which tend to be based on concurrent use basis, also helps.
'I also expect organisations to make decisions on moving off fat client when they want to review their IT and business processes. This will typically happen during a merger or take-over - or a desire to make themselves more efficient. The best years for web to host are coming,' Platt says.
So what is likely to make web to host lift off? It isn't just the technology, but all the other goodies coming for TCP/IP technology.
Dave Culley, managing director of Better On-line Solutions, sees interfaces between the TCP/IP and green screen worlds keeping terminal emulation at the forefront for many years yet.
He points out: 'We can already deliver e-mail and TCP/IP services over traditional twinax. This means sites don't have to rip out their old cabling investments. IBM is very pleased with this development and it only costs £2,000 for eight devices.
'We can also offer access to host back office systems over the internet. This allows sites to get rid of leased lines. There is also our Integrated Print Data Stream (IPDS) technology which allows secure printing over the internet and interfaces with traditional hardware.
'Watch out for our TeleLynk voice over IP (VoIP) gateway technology which brings business class telephony and real-time fax services via the internet. This could dramatically change the terminal emulation market,' Culley concludes.
Wick Hill business booming
Business is booming, according to leading WRQ distributor Wick Hill. Group managing director Ian Kilpatrick says: 'We have just had our best quarter for years. This includes both traditional terminal emulation products and web to host.
'Independent research by the likes of IDC shows that over 75 per cent of the world's data is still held on traditional back office systems like mainframes and minis - and e-biz demand will see these systems given new access points.
'I expect between six to 12 million new terminal emulation seats to be sold during the next four years - and I expect the key players to include Attachmate, Hummingbird, IBM, Net Manage and WRQ,' he adds.
So why is business continuing to boom? Kilpatrick replies: 'It is all down to cost. Auditors are now very much aware of how little it costs to deploy both traditional emulation and web to host. Savings of 25-50 per cent compared with thick client are the norm.'
The terminal emulation industry continues to confound critics who routinely predict its death. Sales continue to grow but suppliers must embrace web to host technology if they wish to avoid being rationalised or taken over.