SNA ApplicationsNC's in the Enterprise

As an owner of an IBM enterprise server, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learnthat 70 percent of mission-critical applications and data are stored and processed onmainframes. Chances are, you know firsthand that your "big iron" protectsvaluable company information like no other.

But, while you've been able to easily discount the claims of those that would have youbet your entire business on server farms composed of $5,000 PCs, the landscape is changingin ways that make it imperative to open up your enterprise to newer tools ­ while stillpreserving your investment in traditional technology. How do you accomplish this?

Changes are probably in the offing at both the server and client levels. Perhaps you'veeven already begun populating your glass house with other server platforms for specifictasks ­ maybe an AS/400 for decision support, and NT servers for groupware and e-mail.For the first time, your managers might be able to analyze, firsthand, customer trends andsales patterns. They're able to perform research on the Web, and work with spreadsheetsand sales presentations.

And while you're at it, you'd like to transform your mainframe into a Web server(gasp!) by HTML-enabling your mission critical applications. This will enable remoteworkers, suppliers and customers to conduct business from any browser. Travelingsalespeople will be able to check inventory and account balances from the road. And you'reeven considering Java to front-end some of your more unintuitive customer service, callcenter, help desk or order entry programs, which have always taken a lot of time foremployees to get used to.

While you've been able to exist until now with 3270 "green screen" dumbterminals for host applications, and perhaps even use PC clients on a very limited basis,you hate the idea of giving everyone in the company a PC. While the devices have come downin price, your assistant points out that businesses are still shelling out, on average,upwards of $1,600 for basic hardware and software. But it's not even acquisition coststhat bother you; it's the long term expenses of PCs: hard drives fail, information islost, electric bills are high, they are prone to theft, and need to be upgraded one at atime. (In fact, analysts estimate that they average $4,000 in yearly maintenance costs.)Worse, since the processing mostly occurs at the client levels, PC microprocessors becomeobsolete every two years or so.

You will always be a mainframe devotee, which means you have very good reasons forsticking with server-centric computing, and you won't mindlessly sacrifice stability onthe desktop either. After all, look at those poor souls in the mid-nineties who deployedproblem-prone, horsepower hungry client/server networks, which practically mandatedprogramming and troubleshooting skills for the average user.

Your smart, but annoying, new hire also points out that a Datapro survey showed thatusers spend an average of only 16 percent of their time on word processing andspreadsheets; more than double that time is spent on traditional programs, where a PC isoverkill. And she tells you that Datapro also found that an average of 12 percent ofemployee time is spent either playing computer games or configuring their PC. You learnthat yet another survey, from the SCO software company, found that PC problems shave threeweeks of productivity from users.

Until recently, PCs were your only solution for accessing newer applications, or HTMLand Web-enabled mainframe applications. Fortunately, thin clients offer an alternative tothe PC. While PCs are still the ideal solution for your power user ­ you know, thedenizens in your company lab who deconstruct DNA or map the surface of Venus ­ thinclients, such as IBM's Network Station network computer could be exactly what you'relooking for. Unlike Windows-based terminals, which only offer connectivity to Windowsprograms, NCs connect to all computing environments, including UNIX, AIX, S/390, OS/400,Windows, OS/2, Internet and Java.

IBM Network Stations were the answer for the Capital Mortgage Division ofMontreal-based Bombardier Inc., the $7.1-billion aerospace and transportationmanufacturer, which also has operating groups in transportation, motorized consumerproducts, aerospace, financial and real estate services. It manufactures such products asits Ski-Doo snowmobiles, Sea-Doo jet boats, rapid transit cars, monorail cars, systems forthe English Channel Tunnel (the "Chunnel"), small and ultra-light aircraft, thewide-body Challenger business jet, amphibious aircraft, Learjet business aircraft, andaircraft engine nacelles. Bombardier's 40,000 employees conduct operations on the fivecontinents, with a high concentration in North America and Europe.

The company's Capital Mortgage Division, a lending arm of Colchester, Vt.-basedBombardier Capital, recently installed IBM network computers and ALE Systems' loansoftware at its loan processing center in Jacksonville, Fla. The devices, used in dataentry, credit investigation, credit management, loan processing and collections, have madeemployees 400 percent more productive, and have proved much more reliable than PCs. It isalso saving 30 percent just on hardware acquisition costs. The devices access loansoftware running on an IBM AS/400 server in Jacksonville and financial applicationsrunning on Bombardier's IBM ES/9000 mainframe in Vermont.

Ron Peace, Vice President and General Manager, reports that when his management teammoved to Jacksonville in January 1997, it hired people with backgrounds in banking andfinance. When these new employees ­ who grew accustomed to working on PCs at their formerjobs ­ were introduced to the network computer, they became instantly comfortable. Thesame could certainly be said at businesses where the employees are used to green screens.

Managers like Ron Peace are no anomaly. In June 1998, Zona Research said that 13million thin clients would be in use by 2000. Not particularly surprising when Bill Kirwinand David Cappuccio, analysts at the Gartner Group, say that NCs can save between 24 and31 percent in total ownership costs.

It's easy to figure out why. As with your 3270 terminals, you can deploy applicationsacross the world with a flick of a button. Users don't have to waste time or worry aboutfixing PC problems themselves, and information is more securely backed up. IBM NetworkStations are managed professionally from one central point, while giving employees wideaccess to information. And since data is stored centrally, employees traveling to a branchoffice or remote site can access their own, familiar desktop. No moving parts (hence,improved reliability) and the consumption of between just seven and 30 watts ofelectricity (lower power bills) complete the picture.

Even more interesting is the ability to enhance existing 3270 applications. Tools likeInterspace from Planetworks allow your CICS applications to be "mined" - thatis, to create a new and intuitive user interface from the original menu-drivenapplication. Application mining presents the CICS transactions to the developer withoutthe need for understanding the mechanics of either CICS or the mainframe. The greatadvantage is that the power of the PC-style interface can be combined with the familiarbenefits of the terminal. It's a solution whose time has come.

Problem solved with aplomb, your business continues to count itself among the 70percent of businesses that run their operations with enterprise servers. Except now, yourbusiness is also part of a growing group of companies that also use thin clients, inaddition to muscular servers, to operate with iron efficiency.

About the Author:

David McAughtry is Vice President, Marketing, IBM Network Computer Division,responsible for the worldwide strategic and marketing communications activities of thisIBM unit. He is located in London.

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