Any supplier which thinks that the AS/400 is an easy ride for web-host connectivity tools can forget it; competition has never been tougher.
As Ray Titcombe, chairman of the IBM CUA, observed, "The connectivity tools market is now much healthier. Competition is intense for tools like Apache, Salvo, Esker, Plumtree and Seagull. I don't see any clear winners yet, and it is horses for courses.
"Web-host connectivity is playing a key part in e- business development and speakers at our joint CUA-Guide conference at the Selfridges Hotel, Oxford Street on 20 September will be looking at the issues. E-business is taken very seriously by the government," he added.
So how can sites roll out Web-host connectivity with the minimum of risk? According to Byford Computer Services' technical director John Amans, this is where the latest Lpar (logical partitions) technology comes into its own.
He pointed out, "We use a lot of Jacada which generates Java to replace green screens. This runs in the background and you don't have to change any of your heritage logic or databases.
"So as it is desirable to run your Web and browser applications on a separate machine, you set up an Lpar partition. This allows you to dynamically reallocate resources to your Web server if demand goes up.
"Lpar also allows sites to develop and test new Web applications or upgrades to older systems without affecting production. You don't have to switch them over until you are satisfied they work," Amans added.
Some AS/400 sites are very happy to use the box to demonstrate just how good the iSeries is at handling Web to host integration. A major user is QAS, which specialises in accurate addressing data for the UK, EU, the US and Australia.
Philip Burchill is development manager and he said, "Previously we had to load our salesforces' lap tops with a demonstration system only. We felt that being able to show all the products running in a live environment would be more effective.
"So we opted for WebSphere and HTML. We have also upgraded our operating system to OS/400 V5.1. Everything is password-protected and our salesforce can now demonstrate the latest products live to any customer.
"While our main product is correct addressing, we can also add socio-economic information too. The salesforce can then show the customer what impact this might have on its campaign," Burchill added.
As CUA chief Ray Titcombe pointed out above, Web to host integration is horses for courses. In the short term, many sites will only want to upgrade their green screen systems to entry level PCs for internal networks and Intranets first. For these, terminal emulation products will often be sufficient. This market is very mature and again there are plenty of reference sites.
The fun and games start when sites want to take their heritage applications and data forward into e-business. While terminal emulation can support this for external users at a low level, there are navigation and thin client issues to resolve.
Stephen Wynne-Jones, technical director at Esker, said, "Our technology does allow sites to mix screens from different 5250 applications together to form new applications. IT is when users want to (say) navigate library lists that they will need more advanced technology deploying.
"Sites will probably want to keep clients as thin as possible as this allows more types of devices to access host systems easily. So sites may want to look at two-tier connectivity. We do this via Esker Tun. This is normally deployed as an emulator in a Web page, for example in a selective extranet.
"The next step is likely to require three-tier connectivity to ensure highly secure connections and transactions. We have developed the Esker Personna Server for this. It uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology but all connections have to go via the Personna Server. This rings back, to ensure you are who you say you are," he added.
The ultimate prize for a horses for courses utility could go to the JBA wing of Geac. During the early part of the year, Geac lost a lot of e-biz upgrades to other suppliers. This included next-door neighbours Deliver-e which is run by former JBA managers.
During the summer, Geac recognised that if it wanted to throw off the English Patient tag it had to go out and see what the users really wanted, what products could be incorporated into System 21 and what had to be written internally.
E-business consultant Steve Rees was upbeat, "Our commerce.connect series of applications and services are designed to give System 21 sites everything they are likely to need for Web host integration. They have the same look and feel as most Microsoft based applications and link customers and suppliers with the AS/400 host via WebSphere."
The main modules cover security, components that contain the business rules and connection logic for executing individual System 21 tasks, allowing processes to be defined and the resultant workflow managed, management of salesforces, management of call centres, management of Web based customer self-service, support for field engineers, managing external e-mails, allowing vendors to have controlled access and e-procurement.
Boxtext: sweet as...
Love Hearts maker Swizzels Matlow went Web-host in developing www.forgetflowers.com
This uses DB2 running on the Netfinity Server, WebSphere and an AS/400 running back office systems. It was piloted just before St Valentine's Day. This allowed lovers to send the lights of their lives half kilo boxes of popular sweets. Three van loads were delivered on the day without, apparently, a hitch.
Byford Computer Services web-enabled the back end bespoke RPG systems.
Boxtext: what's on offer
Esker - a major user is Lucent and many JBA/Geac System 21 sites have signed up. The software sits on the NT box and uses Microsoft's IIS service. It works with Active Server Page technology and mixes 5250 streams. It generates raw HTML which is light on bandwidth.
Futuresoft - is the new kid on the block. It recently acquired the Multiview connectivity set from Surf Control and its AS/400 host connectivity software, DCS 8 and DCS Web Server enable deployment, implementation and management of secure access to host environments from PCs and thin clients either locally or via the Web.
NetManage - is the technology leader. It offers distributed services via central control. Rumba gives all the cost of ownership benefits of emulation at the browser and is good for networked printing. On-web (formerly Simware Salvo) publishes new views of heritage screens and allows sites to develop scalable GUI based systems non-intrusively.
Seagull - recognises that Web-host connectivity is horses for courses and offers four products: Jaywalk which is a thin Web-based emulator; Tiger Ray which generates pure HTML interfaces for the gap between GUIs and HTML request/reply; Wireless to host for pocket PCs, Palm Pilots and cell phones; and, Transidiom which turns legacy into XML, COM and Java- enabled applications.