Build Your Own

Over the past six months, many large vendors have raced to bring application servers to the market, opening up a new chapter in Web-based network computing. Solutions such as IBM’s WebSphere and Netscape Application Server are designed to make the Web a true three-tier computing environment.

Solutions for linking AS/400 applications and data to this environment are also surfacing. Recently, EnterpriseLink Technology Corp. (Campbell, Calif.) began shipping an AS/400 version of its e-commerce application server. SmartTran, originally designed and sold for mainframe/3270 environments, feeds 5250 datastreams into a Web application server running on a Windows NT Server or Sun Solaris box. The 5250 screens are mapped to HTML pages accessible by the Web.

EnterpriseLink reports it has successfully developed mainframe-accessible e-commerce systems for The University Las Vegas (UNLV) and National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.). UNLV recently implemented an online student registration system using SmartTran software, which enables students to register by accessing UNLV central databases via Web browsers. National Semiconductor has extended its purchasing system to an extranet of vendors and suppliers.

The same approach is now applicable to AS/400 and 5250 environments as well, according to Madhav Patwardhan, VP of marketing for EnterpriseLink. Building e-commerce or extranets within AS/400 environments, however, calls for a different approach and mindset than those put forth in much of today’s e-commerce hype, he says. "The e-commerce sites we’re always hearing about – and e-Trade – were built from the ground up. However, many established companies have enormous investments in existing systems which happen to be on mainframes or AS/400s. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, rebuild business logic or create new databases and fill them with data that you already have to establish an e-commerce site."

Web-to-AS/400 connectivity must maintain the viability of user sessions. The AS/400 sees the SmartTran application server as standard 5250 terminal, Patwardhan explains. Thus, sessions are kept open while the end user clicks through Web pages. "The Web is fundamentally a sessionless world – you request a Web page and you disappear," he says. "Open sessions are the only way the AS/400 knows how to deal with you."