IP Migration Services Focus on SNA

The advent of Internet Protocol (IP) has changed the way network administrators think about the future of their systems, particularly if their businesses have already invested heavily in SNA.

In anticipation of the eventual migration away from SNA and toward the more open connectivity of IP, companies like MCI Telecommunications Inc. (Washington) have devised initiatives with the help of IBM and Cisco Systems Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) to facilitate such movement.

MCI’s Enterprise Blue is a suite of services that includes carrier transport, virtual private network (VPN) solutions and pre-packaged applications that run legacy applications over IP. Through the Enterprise Blue offering, MCI and IBM create prepackaged solutions that support messaging and workgroup collaboration, integrated document management, information access and e-commerce. "This SNA-to-frame relay initiative is a complex service offering that makes use of Cisco hardware and IBM Tivoli software," explains an MCI spokesman.

Enterprise Blue falls under the larger umbrella of networkMCI Enterprise Management, a service designed to provide a single-source solution for distributed computing environments. MCI offers combined SNA and IP networks that run over frame relay, ATM or the public Internet. With Cisco, MCI will offer a VPN that supports TCP/IP, SNA, APPN and other multi-protocol environments.

Most businesses have separate networks for SNA and Internet/intranet traffic, according to Jay Pultz, a research director at Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). "Frame relay helps integrate SNA and the Internet," he says. "SNA is also becoming more Web-enabled and can be run over IP-based networks."

The two greatest benefits of MCI’s offering are the cost savings and the Web-enabling of SNA, which result in a simpler network with a comparable level of performance, according to Pultz. "One drawback is that enterprises have been reluctant to give up control of their networks on the logical level, even though Enterprise Blue is offering a way to outsource these functions," he adds.

"MCI is offering a shared alternative to replacing an SNA network," Pultz says. "Keeping an SNA network without modification means continuing to have to invest in front-end processors and having to pay certain licensing fees. With MCI, the consolidation of front-end processors has cost benefits."

According to one IBM source, although MCI is offering a solution to help customers move from SNA to the Internet, IBM is not directly supporting MCI and Cisco’s SNA migration project. If customers come to IBM first, IBM will sell them its own solutions, the IBM source says.

IBM already has an agreement with Sprint Communications Co. (Westwood, Kan.) within the United States to provide SNA-to-Internet migration. "MCI has attached IBM’s name to their own project because IBM is the preeminent authority on System Network Architecture. When you think SNA, you think IBM," IBM’s source says, adding that the conversion project is expected to appeal to only a "certain segment of networking customers anyway."

At least 60 percent of all data transferred across WANs is moved via SNA, according to IBM. Industry estimates suggest companies have invested in excess of $1 trillion in SNA equipment.

"While IP desktops and the Web are popular, they’re not evolving as fast as it would appear," the IBM source says. "SNA is more reliable and secure, and has something that works. A lot of money has been invested in these systems. [Companies] are going to be real careful before moving to IP."

In May, IBM and Sprint Business announced an agreement under IBM’s Business Partner program to provide an end-to-end solution to help SNA customers migrate from private lines to more technologically advanced data networks. The move was orchestrated to combine IBM’s SNA consulting services with Sprint’s frame relay data solutions.

IBM and Sprint have promoted their relationship over the past few months as a migration from private lines to frame relay, offering users the ability to: add new sites and applications without the need to redesign the network; simplify network management by having Sprint oversee the WAN, freeing in-house staff to focus on managing applications and computing; take advantage of Sprint’s background in network design and data management; and save up to 40 percent on data communications services through the consolidation of multiple networks.