Telecom Giants Unveil SNA-to-Frame Relay Solutions

With as much as 75 percent of mission-critical corporate data still residing on "legacy" mainframe and AS/400 systems from IBM Corp., the market for Systems Network Architecture (SNA) networking services and support remains a very viable and lucrative one. The announcement of recent initiatives on the part of both Sprint Corp. (Dallas, and MCI Communications Corp. (Washington, indicates that enterprises with SNA networks may soon be able to draw from a broad set of solution offerings.

SNA is a mainframe networking standard that was introduced by IBM in 1974. The initiatives announced by both Sprint and MCI seek to facilitate further integration between SNA networks and other heterogeneous enterprise networks, most important among them frame relay, wide-area network (WAN) and virtual private network (VPN) solutions. "The market for this type of [SNA] service is in the billions," explains Tom Nolle, president of networking consultancy CIMI Corp. (Voorhees, N.J, "Many large corporations want to modernize their legacy-era networks, but have been reluctant to do so because of uncertainties associated with reliability and quality assurance."

Sprint has signed on as an IBM Business Partner to work directly with Big Blue to revamp SNA networks for the Internet age. According to Sprint, representatives from both companies will oversee the integration of SNA networks with peer-to-peer networks featuring a variety of different protocols and operating system schemas. More important, Sprint says, it will work with IBM’s SNA consulting services to oversee the integration of enterprise SNA networks with its frame relay solutions.

The hope, Sprint says, is that enterprises will be able to integrate their SNA, client/server, Internet and intranet applications into one seamless network. "This is an ideal solution for companies running SNA who want to minimize the risk of migrating to an advanced data network solution," contends Sue Sentell, vice president of business marketing with Sprint.

The Sprint/IBM combination should provide IT organizations with end-to-end services in network design, migration planning, implementation planning and project management. In addition, Sprint also indicated that it will provide a variety of network management and monitoring services to oversee the day-to-day operation of the resulting SNA WAN.

Rob Zimmer, business line manager for service providers with IBM's networking hardware division, positions the Sprint/IBM initiative as a collaboration that should leverage the knowledge of each of both companies in their respective fields of expertise. "Sprint's frame relay offering effectively leverages IBM's SNA expertise, network consulting services and networking products for the benefit of customers who want to migrate their mission-critical business applications to a public frame relay network," he acknowledges.

Telecommunications giant MCI also unveiled its new networkMCI Enterprise Blue initiative, a set of service and support offerings that will help enterprises migrate existing SNA networks to MCI’s frame relay technology. NetworkMCI Enterprise Blue consists of three product suites: application enablement solutions, SNA VPN solutions and transport solutions, although customers can choose which modules or suites to purchase.

In the area of SNA VPN services, MCI will partner primarily with Cisco Systems Inc. to help migrate existing SNA networks to the hybrid SNA VPN approach. According to John Gerdelman, president of networkMCI Services, MCI’s network and information technologies division, his company’s SNA VPN approach marks a new paradigm in enterprise network architectures. "SNA VPN migration is a significant step in creating powerful, flexible networks cost-effectively, while considerably enhancing corporate efficiency, increasing competitiveness, and improving profitability," Gerdelman maintains. "These new networks will actually help companies define their future offerings through the use of information-centered networks."

MCI’s Information Centered Network Solutions (ICNS) group will provide network integration and consolidation services, including network design, migration and implementation planning support. ICNS will also offer 24x7 support.