AS/400 File Conversion at Touch of a Button

If you’re tired of massaging your AS/400 data using RPG routines every time you want to let PC users view EBCDIC files, the Alliance CrossData/400 data conversion utility from Patrick Townsend & Associates Inc. (Olympia, Wash.) may provide some relief.

Not only can the tool convert any externally described AS/400 file or System/36 file to ASCII format, it can also convert them to Microsoft Excel CSV (Comma Separated Values) or tab delimited formats.

After converting the data, the product can also copy the file to an AS/400 Web site or automatically distribute data. Alliance CrossData/400 began shipping in June, and runs on OS/400 V3R2, V3R7, V4R1 or later.

"Alliance CrossData/400 lets users convert their AS/400 data into formats that are usable on a variety of platforms, including Unix, Windows PCs, NT server and other systems, all without requiring any programming," says Patrick Townsend, president of the company. "In contrast, when programmers use RPG or other methods to convert AS/400 files, they have to extract the data, unpack it, and put it in ASCII format separately for every file. While that’s certainly not a major undertaking, it could still take a few hours for each file. With this, you just click on a button and it gives you the format you specify."

Since July, Alliance CrossData/400 has been available as part of a suite of products that includes FTP management and security, much like the company’s LAN series of FTP packages designed for EDI point-to-point transactions. Users can purchase the conversion product separately, or with the FTP management and security software.

While other companies have offered tools that convert a wide range of data, including EBCDIC to ASCII, these also generally cost more than Alliance CrossData/400, which focuses only on very specialized data types, says Jim Estes, senior systems analyst at Northwest Natural Gas in Portland, Ore.

"This is a nice little utility for the price. Rather then having to write RPG programs and having lots of problems fluffing the AS/400 data, this does it in a really slick fashion. Getting the file out of the AS/400 was never the big problem before, but the time it took to get it into ASCII format was a major undertaking," Estes points out.

Due to the product’s automation capabilities, users can also take care of their batch-processing overnight. A library scan feature can find specific AS/400 files, convert them to ASCII, and place them in a specified user’s directory. Users define AS/400 libraries to scan and which files to convert, as well as conversion type and distribution actions for each file, again without any programming required. Townsend says this feature comes in handy for distributing reports to management personnel, for example.

The CSV file support lets users embed AS/400 data in their Web sites. When a Web site visitor clicks on the file, it will automatically open as an Excel file. After converting files to CSV format, users can also specify that it is submitted as an Internet e-mail message or send it to an AS/400 exchange mailbox.

The software includes application logging, conversion history, remote support and a programmer’s toolkit for those users who want to access low-level APIs in CrossData/400 for creating specialized data conversion routines.