Guest Commentary: Accessing AS/400 Data Remotely with the 'Net

The rate at which business needs arise today has forced companies to develop systems that will keep them one step ahead of their competition at all times. To meet the challenge, IT departments are deploying intranets to give corporate users access to the data they need from a variety of sources.

Legacy applications continue to lie at the heart of corporate computing infrastructures, holding up to 90 percent of mission critical data. In the past, connecting PCs to an AS/400 host required terminal emulation software that was resident on the desktop. The diverse nature of the Internet and the availability of new Java-based terminal emulators has changed this scenario.

Java-based terminal emulation provides users with the means to access legacy data from a desktop in the next office or one on the other side of the world. Anywhere, in fact, with Internet access.

The Java terminal emulator generally resides on either the host computer or a Web server and is downloaded to the desktop on demand. The emulator runs as an applet within the browser or in a frame, and establishes a direct connection between the desktop and the selected host. The user then operates as if he/she is using a traditional terminal emulator.

Because Java is independent of the operating system, Java-based terminal emulators work on the widest range of browser-enabled desktops, including Windows- or OS/2-based PCs, Apple Macintoshes, Unix workstations and the new breed of thin clients.

IBM has shown strong support for Java in their latest release of OS/400. It has optimized Java performance on the AS/400e by integrating the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) beneath the machine interface. The AS/400 now provides IT departments with an excellent platform from which to implement a worldwide strategy for accessing corporate data via the Internet.

Java and the AS/400 each have their roots in object-oriented technology, so there is common ground for both. And the independent nature of Java makes it ideally suited to programming for the Internet. AS/400 Java support is an important part of IBM’s overall Internet strategy and goes well beyond just downloading applets.

When discussing host access, there are really two different user needs. One is for those users that must interact with the data on a regular basis. They often require emulation software that has customizable features to facilitate data entry and retrieval.

The other group is those users that solely view the data. They want their information quickly. For some applications, users both interact with and view the data. Java-based terminal emulators can handle each of these situations equally well.

Many of the new emulation products include a full set of productivity tools, including a floating toolbar, button palettes, graphical keyboard mapping, mouse integration and multiple session control. These are designed to improve efficiency, reduce network traffic and create a user-friendly enterprise environment.

Security of sensitive host data is obviously a primary concern when implementing Web-to-host connectivity. Some advanced Java-based terminal emulators can provide a secure encrypted connection from the client browser to the host, using the highest-level, 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology. In addition, the emulation software can be configured as a trusted applet through code signing, allowing users to access local storage and exchange data with multiple hosts.

When considering Web-to-host connectivity, it is important to understand the needs of your business and those of your users. The benefits to be gained from a well thought out connectivity solution are extensive: improved productivity, faster decision making, improved customer satisfaction and, in some cases, a reduction in IT costs.

Equally important is choosing the right platform on which to base your solution. Pick one that can meet your requirements today and scale up to meet them tomorrow. With the recent enhancements to V4R2, the AS/400 architecture is an ideal midrange platform on which to host your applications and provide access to the data worldwide.

John Biancamano is director of sales at Pericom Software Inc.,Hamilton Square, N.J.