NT RAS Solutions in the AS/400 World

According to Stamford, Conn.-based market research and analyst firm Gartner Group, nearly 20 million salaried American workers telecommute from their homes for an average of at least one day a week - and Gartner expects that number to rise to nearly 65 million by 2003. Consequently, more and more companies are laying down a mandate to their already beleaguered IT organizations: Implement a scaleable and reliable RAS infrastructure that can provide connectivity to remote end users. Such a directive is bound to create an additional management problem for most IT organizations, but for AS/400 managers with Windows NT servers in their networks, a solution may be closer than one might otherwise think.

Since its Version 3.51 iteration, Windows NT has provided vanilla RAS support straight out-of-the-box. Windows NT 4.0 brought more to the table, integrating a revamped RAS service that distinguished between server-side and client-side components, as well as a new multiprotocol routing service. But it was Microsoft’s Spring 1997 release of its Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) - formerly known as "Steelhead" - that really provided NT with a competitive level of RAS function, as for the first time Microsoft implemented native RAS APIs at the operating system level to which third-party developers could write code.

According to Al Haus, senior director of marketing with NT RAS hardware vendor Rascom Inc. (Salem, N.H.), for IT managers who have some experience with NT, deploying NT-based RAS solutions makes a lot of sense. "The first thing that an IS manager looks at is ease of installation, ease of support, and if you already know NT and have the resources in house, it’s a no-brainer," Haus says.

There is another NT RAS value-add for AS/400 managers, as well. NT’s status as a network operating system (NOS) providing connectivity to, or featuring available middleware bridges into, a number of disparate operating system platforms makes an NT-based RAS solution a good choice, overall, especially for AS/400 managers who need to provide remote users with access to data on AS/400 VSAM data stores. In the NT RAS schema, a sales representative who needs to access a legacy sales application residing on an AS/400 system, for example, knows he or she has only to dial into the corporate RAS to gain access to corporate network resources.

"That’s a big advantage of the NT solution, because unlike many of those proprietary boxes you can get just about any LAN interface that you want," agrees Chris Carroll, a marketing representative with Rascom. "So to the remote access end users, it doesn’t matter what type of system they’re accessing: If it’s going over Ethernet the application is transparent."

As with most NT-based solutions, however, there is a maturity curve involved. Today, the most feasible implementation environments for RAS solutions based on Windows NT 4.0 and Microsoft’s RRAS are at the departmental level with a modem pool not exceeding six ports, according to Lee Doyle, a VP of networking with analyst and market research firm International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.).

But all of this might change with the appearance of Microsoft’s long-awaited Windows 2000 - formerly NT 5.0 - operating system, which many industry watchers anticipate will extend the scalability and function of NT RAS.

"With [Windows 2000] you’ll have the ability to set system policies based on user identities, for example, a capability which will allow you to place limits on use and idle time," says Ken Hilliard, CEO of NT RAS software OEM Virtual Motion/Acotec (San Francisco). "That’s just one example among many, but nearly all of the basic RAS management function that many ISPs or enterprises require will be there in [Windows 2000]."