Microsoft releases beta version of Host Integration Server 2004

Microsoft will release the second beta of Host Integration Server 2004, countering earlier suggestions that the product would not...

Microsoft will release the second beta of Host Integration Server 2004, countering earlier suggestions that the product would not be upgraded because its functionality would be rolled into other Microsoft e-business server products.

Host Integration Server 2004 succeeds the 2000 version of the software, released in August 2000. The update promises to make it easier to link Windows systems with IBM mainframes and midrange AS/400 servers, known as its iSeries servers. It is also meant to make it easier for customers to migrate away from those IBM systems, and steps up competition with IBM's WebSphere offerings.

Microsoft has about 10,000 Host Integration Server customers, mostly large enterprises who use the product in branch offices for access to applications and data on IBM mainframes or AS/400 machines, said Paul Larsen, group programme manager for e-business servers at Microsoft.

Host Integration Server 2004 offers a new transaction integrator that has been extended to cover AS/400 systems. The transaction integrator allows 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, he said.

By offering transaction integration capability for AS/400 systems, Microsoft is expanding its target market significantly and further encroaching upon IBM's WebSphere territory. Microsoft estimates that there are about 19,000 active mainframes and about 250,000 active AS/400 systems in the world.

"AS/400 users have had the opportunity to try and web-enable [their applications] using IBM's WebSphere toolset. The feedback is that [WebSphere] is not efficient, not easy to use, not easy to deploy," said Larsen.

Microsoft has also extended the transaction integrator with so-called host-initiated processing capabilities. They allow users to migrate one or more host programs, along with data sources, to the Window Server platform, and to have a Windows-based server function as a peer to IBM mainframe and AS/400 systems.

Host Integration Server 2000, the existing version of the product, offers Windows-initiated processing, where the Windows machine functions only as a window to the mainframe. The migration possibilities offered by the host-initiated processing in Host Integration Server 2004 can take away the need to develop applications on the mainframe, but can also help users move away altogether from their IBM machines, Microsoft said.

"Customers are, over time, going to get rid of their mainframes. Where we are at now is the integration phase, where they move one or two applications down to Windows," Larsen said.

Host Integration Server is part of Microsoft's e-business server line of products. There had been some uncertainty earlier this year about its future because it was left out of the "Jupiter" project to unify BizTalk Server 2004 with two other Microsoft e-business server products - commerce server and content management server.

"We haven't made any announcement on pricing and licensing for Host Integration Server 2004 and how it may play in to Jupiter. It is very likely that Host Integration Server will continue to ship as a stand alone product," said Steven Martin, lead product manager for e-business servers at Microsoft.

Meanwhile, the release of BizTalk Server 2004, which was due out by the end of this year, has been pushed back until early 2004, Martin said.

With the transaction integrator in Host Integration Server 2004, Microsoft is bringing the product up to speed with the latest version of its Visual Studio .net developer tools.

Microsoft has also improved data integration in Host Integration Server 2004. The latest feature allows Microsoft's SQL Server database software to natively access mainframe and AS/400 file systems as well as IBM's DB2 database, Larsen said. The improved integration capabilities are to help customers with the synchronisation or migration of data, he said.

Furthermore, Host Integration Server 2004 will include an IP-DLC (Internet Protocol - Data Link Control) link service to provide connectivity for SNA (systems network architecture) applications over an IP network. Users will be able to connect Host Integration Server systems directly to mainframes via IP networks, removing the need for branch cluster controllers, data link switching capable routers, or front-end processors, Microsoft said.

The Host Integration Server 2004 beta will be available this week. The final version of the product is due in mid-2004.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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