Persona Uses Web to Stretch Host Access

In this time of compressed budgets and thinly-staffed departments, network administrators often find themselves charged with the task of making a group of heterogeneous network components sing together like a choir. Capitalizing on the Web as a valuable tool for achieving this harmony, Persoft Inc. introduces Version 4.0 of its Persona Web-to-host connectivity software.

There are essentially four main components to Persona Version 4.0: support for Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1; Web-to-host access for 16-bit clients and full keyboard support for both 16- and 32-bit clients; availability of enterprise-specific X.509 digital certificates; and ANSI and SCO ANSI terminal emulation compliance.

With the addition of support for JDK 1.1, "we are now working with a new Java Development Kit for our client offering," says Elliott Smith, Persona senior product manager for Persoft (Madison, Wis.). "Persoft appreciates Java’s capabilities but also recognizes the technology’s limitations." JDK 1.1, for example, receives only limited support from many of today’s popular browsers, with about 38 percent of businesses using a browser that supports JDK 1.1, according to Smith.

Version 4.0’s 16- and 32-bit natively-written client addresses what Smith refers to as the "shrinking Windows 3.1 market." According to Smith, 68 percent of Persoft’s 3.1 users plan to migrate up to a newer version by the Year 2000. "The remaining users polled say they plan to use 3.1 until they can’t use it anymore, and will then migrate to a new platform," he says. Smith also points out that, while Persoft anticipates that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) will be extremely popular, the company has not found this to be the case on today’s 16-bit desktops at this time.

X.509 certificates are another way of adding security to the Persona product. "We have added a layer that allows us to support X.509 certificates, so now our products offer SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] 3.0 as well as 40, 56 and triple DES encryption," Smith says. "In the VPN world, the server has the capability to authenticate itself to the client, and that’s a nice component to that level of security, and so we’ve integrated that component [into Version 4.0]. Today, with an X.509 certificate from Persoft, the server hands a certificate down to the client that identifies whose server they’re making a connection to."

Because additional hosts are at times used to complement a primary host in 5250 or 3270 environments, Persoft added WYSE ANSI and SCO ANSI compliance to Persona Version 4.0. "We want to make sure that for someone moving to a Web-to-host environment, they’re not having to take a restriction because they’re not compliant to the other host," Smith says.

Smith believes Persoft has placed just the right amount of faith in Java to this point. "Specifically, what we found was that a lot of our customers still existed with a significant percentage of Windows 3.1 in their environment," he says. Since Java and Windows 3.1 are generally mutually exclusive, one of the first things Persoft did to validate its theory was to survey about 400 Fortune 1000 customers who defined themselves as "terminal emulation users."

About 60 percent of that group still had Windows 3.1 within their enterprise, as well as Windows 95 and NT. "We saw within the enterprises we were going to serve, a fairly heterogeneous type layout of operating systems," Smith says.

Of those surveyed, the number falling into the AS/400 market is consistent with the percentage of AS/400 users found in a normal sample of Fortune 1000 companies, Smith estimates. "Across this group, we found that one in five desktops were Windows 3.1, and that in enterprises of 1,000 desktops or less, the prevalence actually increased to about 25 percent. This told us that if we wanted to have a solution that would reduce the cost of administration – to allow for the administrator to deploy it centrally – we needed to come up with a solution that didn’t restrict the network administrator in deployment or didn’t require an upgrade of Windows 3.1 desktops simply to use Persoft’s technology."

Persona’s support for Windows 3.1 is one of the greatest assets, along with the low cost of ownership for the product, says Jeff Narucki, senior analyst with Progressive Strategies Inc., a New York-based analyst firm that performs hands-on technology assessments. Persona offers Persoft users an emulation package at a low cost without extensive setup requirements, "as opposed to solutions like an Attachmate Host publishing system or a Wall Data Cyberprise, where there’s a little more setup involved."

Connecting multiple data sources into new and unique applications is probably the only downside to the product, Narucki points out, adding, "The real benefit of Persona is to minimize your total cost of ownership for your Web-to-host connectivity, in terms of training new users and software maintenance."

Persona found a good fit within the IS environment of Unimed Management Services (Burbank, Calif.), a company that manages the medical practices of several large medical groups in southern California, as well as other healthcare-related businesses. A heterogeneous maze of systems thanks to reorganization and consolidation of once-independent IS departments, Unimed centralized its IT to reduce costs.

Unimed’s IT infrastructure consists of a Cisco WAN, five AS/400s and three DEC Alpha 4100s running VMS, all connected via TCP/IP and supporting approximately 1,500 PCs, according to Patrick Matthews, director of network systems for Unimed. Though the company is considering a RISC upgrade during the first or second quarter of 1999, all Unimed’s existing AS/400s are CISC-based machines running no newer than V3R2.

Unimed relies upon its network to run heavily-customized medical group operations applications, according to Matthews. "The one-time configuration is probably the biggest advantage of Persona 4.0," Matthews says. "It’s nice because you configure one device instead of configuring terminal sessions on each PC. You just have to make sure each PC has a Web browser. One of the things we’re getting ready to do is use it through our firewall."

In considering a terminal emulation package, Unimed was looking for something that could perform both VT and 5250 emulation. "We went with Persoft because it was the most friendly with our VMS environment," Matthews says. "We try to centralize everything as much as possible and put all the complexity inside one room, to as great an extent as possible. Version 4.0 is basically making the AS/400 accessible through a Web browser."