ClientSoft Opens Window for Mobile Users

With all the time and effort, not to mention money, you’ve invested in building your legacy system, the last thing any network administrator wants to do is scrap all that hard work just to accommodate a handful of mobile users.

Responding to this call for legacy system extension, ClientSoft Inc. has developed a wireless communication middleware designed to enable access to a Windows CE Terminal TN5250/TN3270E emulator for AS/400 and mainframe access. With in.Touch, ClientSoft has enabled Windows CE to make legacy applications available without modification to mobile users.

As a package, in.Touch consists of hardware, software and service components designed to "extend the enterprise as far out as it will go," says Scott Nevins, president and CEO of ClientSoft (Tarrytown, N.Y.). "We’re the lynch-pin between IBM and Microsoft."

Banking on the availability of NT via the AS/400’s IPCS, "we’re now providing the total solution for the customer," says Robert Evelyn, senior VP of technology for ClientSoft. "From a Windows CE platform, with a wireless or wired modem, users now have access to all applications on the AS/400 side via a browser interface," he says.

When accessing a host system via wireless, the user typically has smaller bandwidth to work with than they would via LAN or dial-up, according to Evelyn. Through compression techniques, in.Touch reduces the size of the data flow between itself and the AS/400, providing better performance and cutting wireless vendor charges, he says.

"The user has the ability to access their already-proven enterprise applications through Windows CE," says Kevin Schick, senior VP of marketing for ClientSoft. "Enterprises can take applications like ERP, sales automation, inventories, etc. and make them accessible to mobile users without having to change the original source.

"With Windows CE – the consummate thin client – running existing applications, organizations can now focus their capital investment on extending their reach into their business proposition, rather than rewriting and migrating all these existing systems that are back at their central information asset site," Schick says.

One industry analyst feels the key to in.Touch is not Windows CE, but rather that ClientSoft’s product "provides anyone who is big on groupware with the ability to keep mobile users in touch at all times." Cal Braunstein, principal analyst with Robert Francis Group (Westport, Conn.), says, "It’s a real boon in that users don’t have to find a place to plug in or look up their local POP access point. Travelers don’t want to have to make a long distance call."

With in.Touch, there is a single icon the user clicks on for access to the host, via satellite, according Braunstein. The freedom inherent in the product and the quick response time make in.Touch worth the fee for mobile service.

James Sinur, VP of applications development and management for Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.), agrees, but points out that legacy system extension is not a fool-proof strategy. "There are some cases where you have a double maintenance issue. Even though a lot of the tools are such that, if you make a change in the upstream legacy system there will be some automation of the downstream changes, there still has to be re-testing of the additional extension to make sure everything works properly."

The greatest upside to legacy system extension: "it’s cheap and it’s fast," Sinur says. In.Touch with Windows CE is "a very economical way to put a mobile front end on legacy systems." For companies with a large degree of geographical dispersion, wireless technology enables users to take advantage of handheld devices, he adds.

"If you’re sick of paying systems integrators and solutions providers big dollars, this is a way of doing it yourself," Sinur points out. "If you think about it, IT departments have to compete with solution integrators. [In.Touch] gives IT departments a competitive advantage over solution integrators, which are expensive."

Wireless satellite technology may cost more than dialing into a local ISP, but wireless has a higher degree of reliability and convenience, according to Sinur. And, while the cost of using wireless may be greater, it is still less expensive to extend legacy systems out to mobile users than to implement new technology, he says.

In.Touch is available in three separate packages: bronze, silver and gold. The bronze package is available for an introductory price of $49 per concurrent user through the end of the year and consists of basic middleware connectivity back to the AS/400. The silver package, priced at $1,200 through the end of the year, consists of a handheld Windows CE device, integrated modem, Microsoft software, browser and 5250 emulator. The gold package, priced at $95,000 through the end of the year, consists of the contents of 10 silver packages as well as a front-end GUI development tool, server license and training.