V4R4 Advances e-Business Initiatives

The demand for continuous, worldwide access to systems and information has in turn created a demand for IT departments to deliver on the promise of e-business. With the wealth of enhancements introduced in V4R4 of OS/400, IBM moves forward with its goal of offering a secure infrastructure upon which to build an AS/400-based e-business.

Major enhancements to the operating system serve to: broaden use of the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs); increase security through the L2TP link and Internet Key Exchange (IKE) protocols; improve the performance and security of the Firewall for AS/400; consolidate Digital Certificate Manager functions; incrementally improve a variety of TCP/IP servers; update LDAP currency; and pull together Lotus Domino and Java.

If the e-business mindset is taking over the world, both from a corporate and consumer standpoint, then Java is the agent enabling this transformation. "Java is the preferred programming language for us for doing e-business on the [AS/400]," says Dick Kiscaden, e-business solutions manager for IBM's AS/400 Brand Partners In Development organization. V4R4 contains many features that make the Internet complete as a public data access network, in many ways the "the modern-day equivalent of the telephone system, only for data," he adds.

IBM is also promoting V4R4 on the strength of its capability to enhance Web application server middleware available on the AS/400, according to Kiscaden. This will help users better take advantage of Lotus Domino, WebSphere and open interfaces for business partners and ISVs, and for using Java as the integrating language. In the second half of 1999, for example, users can expect enterprise Java bean support native on the AS/400.

"IBM is making an important statement by showing its AS/400 users that their systems have a great degree of e-business potential," says Tom Bittman, VP and research director with Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). "This is meant, in part, to keep AS/400 users from moving to Unix or NT. While IBM talks a lot about growing new business, about 90 percent of [V4R4 e-business enhancements] target the installed base."

Client Access can now be used over the SSL, as can Operations Navigator and Management Central, according to Kiscaden. "We also added virtual private networking, which is becoming very popular, for example, between two locations within an establishment who may very well have T1 links onto the Internet anyway," he says. "You can now use that link as your private network."

A VPN encrypts at the low-level IP layer -- unlike Sockets -- and eliminates the need for trading partners to agree upon the same value-added network (VAN). "Everybody's got a connection and now can literally transfer data without concerns about the information on that link," Kiscaden says.

IBM had offered SSL via the firewall with V4R3, but now it's available natively, according to Kiscaden. "This keeps us moving down the path of incorporating natively the functions that you need to do e-business," he says. For the purposes of executing applications like supply chain management, or using the Internet as a network to connect remote establishments, users are "in pretty good shape for doing this."

L2TP link protocol has been added to OS/400 with V4R4, as has IKE protocol to set up keys by manual or dynamic assignment. L2TP is an enhanced link protocol that provides a "multi-hop virtual circuit" through the Internet, while IKE is used to set values and parameters in the exchange of encryption keys and policies. IPSec -- the protocol used to transfer data encrypted at the IP layer -- is now implemented below the AS/400 Machine Interface, where it is hard-coded to the metal of the system for faster performance, according to Kiscaden.

Though not available with V4R4, IBM is using the new operating system's release as an opportunity to announce a hardware-based security solution. The 4758 PCI (LEEDS I) card is a common hardware solution across IBM server platforms. The card isn't shipping with V4R4, but the announcement serves to provide the userbase with the total view of IBM's e-business initiatives, according to Kiscaden.

With V4R4, the Firewall for AS/400 features several new enhancements designed to improve performance, security and usability. These include: Web Traffic Express, an HTTP Proxy Server add-on that provides additional Web page caching performance; mail relay updates, to combat spamming, provide multiple mail domains and hide internal mail addresses; and ease-of-use enhancements for simplified configuration and better logging. Web Traffic Express is scheduled for general availability during the fourth quarter of this year and will be packaged in the WebSphere Performance Pack, Caching Edition.

Also included within V4R4 are Digital Certificate Manager enhancements. With this release, one of the really significant things we did to the Certificate Manager was put everything in a single data store, according to Kiscaden. Prior to that, "key rings" were used, where the keys for accessing applications were kept in different locations. "With this release, we're using DB2 to provide a central repository for all of the key rings, and the applications can register with that repository," he says. "The whole management of the keys is now much easier."

Enhancements to the TCP/IP server are incremental this time around and affect HTTP, FTP, SMTP and Telnet. Most notable enhancements within the HTTP server are PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) support and Domino plug-in, enabling Domino Web server access directly from an IBM HTTP server.

FTP now features enhanced graphical client support that enables most imbedded FTP clients to access AS/400 files. FTP graphical clients have become imbedded technology over the past few years, according to Kiscaden. "We found out that these clients were taking some shortcuts in their analysis of the response that was coming from the server when they were opening up the FTP session," he says. "This ended up preventing them from navigating through the AS/400's library structure."

V4R4 Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) enhancements include: support of IBM eNetwork LDAP Directory up to level 2.1; SSL support for Java Naming & Directory Interface (JNDI); and exploitation by system services, including Management Central, HTTP Server, WebSphere Application Server and enterprise Java beans.

Increasingly, Java is becoming part of enterprise solutions like Lotus Domino. In fact, 1999 is the year of Java on the server, according to John Quarantello, AS/400 Java segment manager. While Java was originally designed by Sun Microsystems in 1995 as a programming language for consumer electronics, it has grown into the premier Web programming language today.

As such V4R4 also includes improvements to the AS/400's integrated Java Virtual Machine. In May of this year, the AS/400 will also get a taste of the latest developer kit for Java (JDK 1.1.7). "Java has been added as both a language environment and an SSL language option. What we've basically done is finish our work of providing Java as a route to the network from all angles," Kiscaden says.

Within the AS/400 installed base, "e-business is an interesting term to most companies," according to Bittman. "The portion of the AS/400 market that will quickly leverage the e-business advances found in V4R4 is a very small niche." But, more important, the AS/400 owns a tremendous amount of installed base within supply chains. "It's important to be able to play when your supplier or your customer wants to do business on the Web," he says.

"E-business has emerged as the way to exploit what has emerged as ubiquitous data connection with the Internet and the TCP/IP protocols," Kiscaden says. "As a public data network, the Internet will fundamentally alter the way companies relate to each other and their supply chain and the way companies relate to their customers."

Bittman says, "The e-business initiatives that IBM is providing are probably important to about five percent of the installed base today. But it's preparing the market for when, in say three years, 75 percent of installed base can leverage the technology."

IBM is ahead of the curve with its e-business initiatives, Bittman concludes. While a lot AS/400 customers are more concerned with increases in capacities and speeds introduced with V4R4, Bittman says IBM's e-business initiatives make a statement about where the market is heading.