Web-to-Host Pioneer Goes Native on AS/400

One of the original pioneers of the great Web-to-host connectivity frontier is ratcheting up its offerings for more direct integration between AS/400 host-based applications and client-based browsers. OpenConnect Systems Inc. (Dallas) recently began shipping a native AS/400 version of its Web-to-host software, and plans to release an AS/400 version of its new application server this summer.

The Web-to-host package, called OC://WebConnect Pro for AS/400, is designed to make AS/400 applications and data accessible to Web browsers. This access is provided by the online download of a Java applet to any Java-capable browser. The Java applet initiates a connection to server software on the AS/400, which establishes an end-to-end session, connecting the AS/400 application with 40-bit or 128-bit encryption. This past fall, OpenConnect was authorized by the U.S. government to export 128-bit encryption technology overseas.

With its new native AS/400 product, OpenConnect enters into direct competition with IBM's Host On-Demand, Rumba from Wall Data Inc. (Kirkland, Wash.), and HostView Server from Attachmate Corp. (Bellevue, Wash.). Currently, OpenConnect is in litigation with Attachmate and Wall Data, claiming original patent rights to Web-to-host connectivity technology, confirms David Johnson, director of product marketing for OpenConnect.

IDC (Framingham, Mass.) rates OpenConnect as the market leader in Web-to-host connectivity, garnering about 38 percent of the total market. "They are one of the first to come out with a Web-to-host product," says Cindy Santasario-Borovick, analyst with IDC. "OpenConnect tends to be a little further ahead of the curve in terms of features than their competitors." She adds that the AS/400 product should also play well among OpenConnect's mainframe base, since there is usually a 25 percent overlap with AS/400 sites.

OpenConnect was one of the original companies offering Java-based access to AS/400 and mainframe applications via a Windows NT or Unix servers in 1996. However, "a lot of AS/400 customers were unwilling to install an NT or Unix machine for connectivity," Johnson says.

OpenConnect also announced it will be shipping an application server to provide browser access to data on multiple hosts. Scheduled to ship in February, the OC://WebConnect Application Server will run on Windows NT and Unix. A native AS/400 version will follow in the second quarter of the year, according to Johnson.

The application server presents information from divergent sources to a browser query, and is "designed for multi-application integration," Johnson says. The application can also be deployed as an Enterprise Java Bean.

"The native AS/400 version is good for people who maybe want to talk to multiple AS/400s, have the AS/400 as their Web commerce server, or maybe want to integrate multiple applications on the AS/400," Johnson says. For example, an application may need to simultaneously access an AS/400 for inventory, a Windows NT SQL Server database for shipping information, and an Oracle database on a Unix server for financial information, Johnson explains.

The application server program can alert an online buyer that an item they want is in stock, approve their credit card purchase and confirm shipping instructions within a single transaction.

Competing solutions such as IBM's WebSphere or Netscape's Application Server (acquired from Kiva Software Corp.) serve more as "deployment platforms," which can work in conjunction with OpenConnect's application server, Johnson points out. An application server such as Netscape Application Server "will have a CICS gateway component, but that's about the extent of the enterprise systems they support," he says. "No one out there will offer a good 5250 terminal interface, or native DB2 over SNA to the host. Does [Netscape's] Kiva really understand the intricacies of these old applications?"