An Interview with Paul Morse
Microsoft's SNA Server Product Manager discusses SNA Server 4.0 environment -- it's role in today's enterprise and the future of the product.
To take advantage of today’s corporate networks, IS managers are looking to sophisticated integration solutions to join once disparate systems. Microsoft SNA Server 4.0 promises to provide the foundation for this complicated integration. Editor in Chief Charlie Simpson sat down with the Paul Morse, SNA Server Product Manager at Microsoft, to hear firsthand about SNA Server 4.0, it’s features and advantages, and the future of the product.
What is SNA Server 4.0, and what are its major advantages?
Morse: SNA Server 4.0 is part of the BackOffice family of products and it integrates Microsoft products and technologies with existing host systems in an organization. It is an extremely flexible product that addresses two major solution areas – First, it is a terminal emulation and print gateway. For terminal access, SNA Server simultaneously supports a wide variety of emulators, including, native 3270, TN3270(E), 5250, and TN5250. This allows for cost-effective terminal access to mainframe and AS/400 applications, and, with the host print service, the ability to re-direct print jobs from the host to LAN attached printers.
Second, it is an application integration platform designed to integrate the Windows NT Server environment with applications and data on a variety of host systems. This second area is key because SNA Server allows organizations to preserve their investment in existing data and transactions, while they employ newer, low-cost solutions. For example, many of our customers want to Web-enable their existing CICS transactions or host resident data without changing anything on the host. By using SNA Server in conjunction with Windows NT Server and its Internet Information Server (IIS) technology, they have implemented solutions that allow end users to interact directly with host data and transactions while using a ubiquitous client-side interface – the browser.
As for advantages, there are many reasons our customers choose Microsoft SNA Server to achieve integration with multiple host environments. I would say that a high degree of flexibility, great scalability, solid reliability, lower cost models and extensive third-party support are among the most noted advantages of SNA Server.
What are the key new features of SNA Server 4.0?
Morse: SNA Server has an array of integrated features, and we keep adding more at a rapid pace to increase the value proposition of the product. Our latest version, SNA Server 4.0 with Service Pack 2, is extremely flexible and accommodating for a wide variety of host integration needs, including Web-to-host and traditional client/server solutions.
The most notable additions involve the data and transactional integration capabilities of the product. We have added direct DB2 access via OLEDB and increased the breadth of transactional integration over SNA and TCP/IP. The TCP/IP support charts a new direction for the product and makes SNA Server even more network agnostic - meaning that we already support many LAN types on the client side, including IPX/SPX, Banyan Vines, TCP/IP, NetBEUI and AppleTalk, allowing the product to fit into most LAN computing environments.
What is new, is we now support SNA and TCP/IP connectivity protocols into the host. This gives customers even greater flexibility for connectivity into the host. There are many other new features, such as a Microsoft Message Queue Server (MSMQ) to MQSeries Bridge for Windows NT Server Enterprise Edition, which integrates the two message queuing systems. And, we have exposed the APPC API that enables transactional support for Windows NT Server applications. By enabling this APPC Sync Level 2 API, our partners can now develop fully transactional solutions for use with a variety of Windows NT Server-based solutions. All this in addition to providing 2 phase commit support for IMS Version 6, and many other enhancements. Our development and test teams have been very busy.
How is Microsoft, with SNA Server V4.0, prepared to meet the computing needs of today’s Fortune 500 companies?
Morse: This is certainly a very broad question and I think that SNA Server has a place in those organizations that are looking to integrate Windows NT Server environments with existing systems. Our customers tell us that they want to employ the newest technology for intranet, Internet, and, to a degree, client/server solutions. The majority are looking at how to Web-enable existing systems without making expensive changes to their current environment. So, if we take that requirement and add it to the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the overall solutions that are enabled by SNA Server, I think we have an answer to your question. When organizations have a computing need that demands integration flexibility and cost efficacy, while enabling the use of new technologies without drastically changing their existing systems, SNA Server and other Microsoft technologies become the clear choice.
Describe the business benefits and advantages for users who select SNA Server.
Morse: The first advantage is that it runs on Windows NT Server, which has meteoric acceptance in large organizations. Organizations can be sure that SNA Server is tightly integrated with the Operating System. This integration provides several advantages including easier management, which can equate to lower cost in the long run.
Second, we have made the licensing of SNA Server very advantageous for those organizations that want to implement programmatic Web-to-host and client/server solutions. Many customers have investigated and compared the pricing of SNA Server-based solutions vs. the competition and have found that SNA Server with Windows NT Server offered significant cost advantages.
Third, and this area is just now being realized, SNA Server’s inclusion into the BackOffice family of products provides the integration conduit for solutions that employ other BackOffice products. For example, Microsoft Exchange has a Profs and OfficeVision connector that uses SNA Server for its connectivity. Also, Microsoft SQL Server, when used in a transactional manner with Microsoft Transaction Server, can use the facilities of SNA Server to create transactional e-commerce environments by directly accessing CICS and IMS transactions. This situation is also true when SNA Server is used in conjunction with Microsoft Site Server Commerce Edition to create another type of comprehensive e-commerce solution. So, again, the advantages come back to tremendous flexibility and lower cost models, without changing the host environment.
Are there any significant differences between Microsoft’s and IBM’s approach to SNA technology?
Morse: Yes, there are differences in the degree of SNA implementation between the two organization’s products. With specific regard to the implementation of SNA technology, SNA Server supports all common LU types and PU2.0 and PU2.1, and can participate in APPN environments as a Low Entry Networking Node. There have been a few inquiries of providing APPN End Node and Network Node support, but we are still investigating the true adoption of APPN in organizations. Our customers tell us the overwhelming requirement is for TCP/IP access to the host, so, that is the need we will satisfy, and continue to rely on partners to provide the newest APPN capabilities for the last few feet of the SNA network in certain situations.
In the world of multi-platform computing where does SNA Server fit?
Morse: Certainly, the role of SNA Server in a heterogeneous environment has changed. From the beginning, we have supported multiple client operating systems, and a variety of LAN types which allows SNA Server to fit very nicely into multi-platform and multi-network environments. As we move forward, the computing landscape is changing, obviously dominated by the more cost-effective solutions that web computing is bringing. As this evolution occurs, we see that customers need a platform on which to easily develop and deploy web-based solutions while at the same time leveraging existing systems, data, and applications.
SNA Server, running on Windows NT Server, is an extremely versatile and customizable platform to access heterogeneous data sources and transactions in a multi-platform environment on behalf of applications deployed on the middle tier. Our customers are doing this today and we will substantially expand the capabilities of the product in the near future.
Further, organizations are discovering that Microsoft delivers an end-to-end solution set today for a variety of platforms. With Microsoft Internet Explorer available for Windows platforms, UNIX systems, and Macintosh systems, organizations can build application server Web-to-host solutions that programmatically integrate the middle-tier applications with existing applications, data, and transactions. All this while using Internet Explorer as the easily maintainable, ubiquitous client side interface for multiple platforms. The benefits are tremendous because the application logic is maintained centrally on the middle tier where security and user access can also be controlled.
How has the Internet impacted SNA Server?
Morse: That is an interesting question and it has an answer in the types of development we do and the features we provide in SNA Server. As you know, Microsoft has been a leader in Internet technology and SNA Server provides a significant piece of the overall solution for interoperability with non-Microsoft technologies. I think that SNA Server has evolved alongside other Microsoft, and non- Microsoft technologies, which allow customers to build sophisticated web solutions to meet their computing needs. For example, SNA Server extends the OLEDB and COM foundations of Microsoft technologies into existing systems to leverage data and transactions. Further, SNA Server features are incorporated into solutions that employ IIS, or Site Server Commerce Edition, or Active Server pages, and other Web-related technologies.
However, we are not totally Microsoft-centric in our development. We need to keep abreast of the latest offerings from the companies that we integrate with. All of these pieces, with more to come, play a part in the business of Web-enabling existing applications, data, and transactions. And, we are squarely in the business of Web-enabling existing applications, data and transactions.
What applications does SNA Server deliver?
Morse: SNA Server has evolved into an integration platform that still supports terminal and print gateway functions, but there are many applications that are in the box. For the most part, they are server applications or services, that enable clients and Windows NT Server applications to access and integrate with the host systems. Examples of the services are the 3270, TN3270, 5250 and TN5250services, Host Print Service, and the AFTP client and server applications. There are also development applications like the Component Builder of the COM Transaction Integrator for CICS and IMS, which takes existing COBOL code and allows a developer to create a COM component from the existing code.
What vertical markets can take advantage of SNA Server?
Morse: Simply put, all vertical markets can, and do, take advantage of SNA Server. We have customers, systems integrators and third-party solution providers that use SNA Server, provide integrated products or do some type of work in all industry segments.
Any organization that has an SNA host, and the need to integrate heterogeneous client systems and networks with the host, can use SNA Server. The product continues to be very successful in all areas and one of the reasons for the success of SNA Server is its ability to integrate with AS/400 and System/36 systems and IBM and non-IBM mainframes. For example, Amdahl, Fujitsu and Hitachi environments can also benefit from the integration capabilities of SNA Server. Our substantial market growth over the past two years is testament to the adoption of SNA Server in all industries
Is SNA Server limited by any protocol, operating system or hardware integration criteria?
Morse: It is safe to say that SNA server works with more network types, operating systems and types of hardware – ISV adapters plus physical hardware systems – than any other product in this space.
How does UNIX effect SNA Server?
Morse: As you may have heard, the UNIX and Windows worlds are starting to converge with solutions coming from a variety of vendors, including Microsoft. As we discussed, Microsoft provides Internet Explorer on various UNIX systems to provide browser access to IIS and SNA Server enabled Web-to-host solutions. We also work with many third parties to provide UNIX systems with access to SNA Server facilities. Some of these vendors provide the TN3270 emulator that connects to the TN3270 server in SNA Server. Another provides an SNA Server client that connects directly into SNA Server and provides UNIX applications with APPC and LU0 connectivity.
In the latest release, we provide data base access to DB2 using OLEDB over TCP/IP and SNA. We are agnostic about the platform where DB2 resides, which could be on a UNIX system as easily as a mainframe or AS/400. So, I guess UNIX systems don’t effect SNA Server. We just work with them in a variety of ways.
How do third-party offerings added value to SNA Server?
Morse: They add tremendous value! When comparing our third-party offerings with any competitive product, it is clear that Microsoft works with more third parties than anyone in this space. We even keep a dynamic document called the Companion Products Catalog on the product CD, and on the SNA Server Web site, that lists vendors and their hardware and software offerings.
These are organizations that have built solutions with SNA Server or provide consulting, and this is in addition to the SNA Specialist area on the SNA Server Web site. There has been a substantial and increasing number of companies that are using SNA Server as their integration foundation. Some of these companies are using SNA Server in exciting new areas like Interactive Voice Response, or using the native Virtual Private Networking (VPN) capabilities of Windows NT Server to give remote and roaming users access to SNA resources securely over the Internet. The SNA Server and VPN solutions are being aggressively pursued by many companies to provide secure SNA access solutions while at the same time lowering the costs associated with remote dial in. It’s pretty exciting really. New secure technology and lower cost models are really catching the eye of decision makers and technologists from all sectors.
How are users responding to the SNA Server?
Morse: Based on customer feedback and the rapid market adoption of the product, it is fair to say that users of SNA Server are satisfied with their investment in SNA Server technologies.
What new products or programs can SNA Server users look for in the coming months?
Morse: Well, these are exciting times with significant changes coming and I can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet. However, it is safe to say that with Windows 2000 [formerly Windows NT Server 5.0] on the horizon, you can bet there will be some substantial enhancements that embrace Active Directory and we will continue to expand the data access and transactional integration portions of the product. We have been working hard to provide products and features that meet the needs of organizations that are looking to embrace new, lower-cost technology while preserving, or lowering, the investment in existing systems and infrastructure. I can assure you that we will endeavor to expand our capabilities and increase the value proposition of our integration products to meet the current and future needs of our customers.