running on NT: Making It Work - AS/400 & NT Coexistence

The word Integrate has no less than seven definitions in the dictionary, ranging from advanced mathematics to racial harmony. This powerful word is used most often to define how well different objects are brought together into a seeming whole. It is this definition that provides one of the core responsibilities of any IS/IT department.

The ability to bring together diverse hardware, software and networking products to create a computing infrastructure for an enterprise is no small matter and incompatibilities between any of the involved products can significantly limit the total system functionality. To eliminate the possibility of such mishaps, many shops have opted for the one source solution to ensure compatibility between all components.

This so-called 'one stop shopping' has many benefits, keeps system complexity to minimum and provides a single point of contact for technical support. However, in the real world, systems are implemented to support or enable the business process with little or no consideration to its effect upon IT/IS. The reality is that very few vendors have been able to provide an end to end solution that also happens to match your company's business model, and in order to fulfill to needs of the business, several vendors may have to be sourced to provide a best fit solution. The trick then becomes minimizing the number of vendors necessary to provide this solution.

In determining the best vendors or products, several factors are usually reviewed including the level of integration within the vendor's product line, and more recently, the ability of the vendor's products to integrate with other products in their industry. The computing industry has long used integration as a major factor in distinguishing between products. When IBM released the AS/400, one of the key selling points was the tight integration between the hardware and software and the almost seamless integration between the DBMS and the operating system.

On the PC side, Microsoft brought together different office productivity products into a cohesive package, called it simply Office, and soon owned the desktop productivity market. The number one reason for Microsoft's success was the tight integration between the products in the suite. Eventually, that led Microsoft to do the same with their development tools and their back-end server software.

Both companies have stuck to this winning strategy and continued to increase the level of integration within their respective products. However, the degree of integration within their product lines usually far outstrips their ability to play nice with other vendor's products. The rapid rise of the Internet has vastly improved the integration options available to shops today, but a fair portion of the work involved in providing the end solution still falls square upon the shoulders of the implementers.

While these two vendors have been presented as shining examples of product integration, bringing them together in a corporate environment can test the mettle of the even the best administrator. However, as the popularity of Windows NT continues to grow, many AS/400 shops are having to use the OS for the first time and are faced with the need to reconcile the differences between these products and provide easy to use solutions to system users. This process, if not handled properly, can be extremely traumatic for inexperienced shops, but when implemented in manner that is appropriate to each platform can provide a solution where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Finding this balance is more than just looking at the platform's spec sheet, it is evaluating the business needs of the company, the skill sets of the IT/IS department, and determining the goals and direction for the computing infrastructure within the enterprise. It is not always a matter of which platform is better at a certain task, but which solution provides the best cost/benefit ratio to the company. Remember that no shop has an unlimited budget and the ability to provide a greater array of solutions while working within the constraints of this finite resource can be of a greater importance.

With all this in mind, we will be taking a hard look at the issues, concerns, and most importantly, benefits of bringing these two platforms together. Please stay tuned.