Bridge of the Enterprise: How Far We Have Come

Do you remember June 1988? I do. I remember the big brass band, the balloons and the festive atmosphere in Valley Forge, Pa., where I attended the formal announcement of IBM’s new Applications System/400. It was a big event and the first day of the future of IBM’s midrange systems offerings.

Little did I know what this new system would mean to all of us. Here it is 10 years later, and would you believe the sucker is still selling? And well, I might add. The AS/400 has gone through some tremendous changes in the last 10 years. Twice, the changes were enough to make IBM consider changing the name.

Nowhere have the changes been more drastic and needed than in the integration of the PC client into the AS/400 space. Sure, back in 1988 IBM offered PC Support/400, but that was merely an extension of what was on the System/36. It offered workstation emulation, printer support, flat file transfer and (oh boy!) shared folders.

Back in those days the world was SNA or SNA, and if you really couldn’t decide there was always SNA. Graphical access in any form was simply not done or available; changing screen colors was the big thing.

Along the way there have been many improvements to PC Support/Client Access. A big enhancement was the addition of Wall Data’s Rumba. This, coupled with the Wall Data Router and DataBase Access GUI (DBAG), was a significant step forward. The direction was to make the AS/400 coexist peacefully with PCs -- not simply give them limited access. The handwriting was on the wall (no pun intended toward the Kirkland, Wash.-based company), the AS/400 and PCs would learn to work together and take advantage of each other’s strengths.

The marriage with Wall Data did not last long. Rumors abound as to why, but ultimately, they are not important to the user community. Soon after the breakup, Client Access for the AS/400 -- as PC Support became known -- had some catching up to do. There were now two ways to perform some operations on the AS/400 graphically, but it seemed as though IBM was hedging its bet at every turn. To the credit of the AS/400 labs, they actually listened to what we were asking for, weighed the pros and cons and made development decisions accordingly. This was virtually unprecedented and very welcome.

Today, the AS/400 is as wide open as the proverbial barn door. In many cases, SNA is not even used any more; TCP/IP is the de facto standard and the AS/400 supports it quite well. Client Access for the AS/400 provides almost any kind of terminal emulation you can imagine, including a nifty GUI-ized look at the AS/400’s native screens. The file transfer tools are significantly enhanced from the earlier days and demonstrably faster. Graphical Operations for the AS/400, with its Windows-style interface for managing the AS/400, is so slick it has become a well-guarded secret. A secret, that if understood could make the AS/400 as intuitive and easy to learn as say, NT Server. A bold statement, but check it out.

Where will CA go from here? You can bet the farm it will become easier to install and administer. It will become more mainstream and intuitive. Best yet, the performance characteristics improve with each release.

All of the products competitive to CA were once in head-to-head competition. In many cases, they were superior. That has all changed. IBM took PC Support and broke apart the PC code and the host code. The host code now sits on all AS/400s, whether you have CA or not. The PC side of the code concentrates on how to take advantage of the AS/400. CA’s advantage over the competition is that only IBM has access to what’s happening on the host side of the equation, and they can exploit that.

If you haven’t seen CA for the AS/400 lately, take a look. It’s a mighty tough product to beat.

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa.