Microsoft Babylon to Serve AS/400

Microsoft is giving its SNA Server a new spin as the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant gets set for an early fall beta release of an enterprise interoperability server designed to integrate Windows data and applications with legacy environments such as the AS/400, MVS and Unix.

Code-named Babylon, the primary purpose of the interoperability server is to provide customers with a robust set of tools and services to build manageable applications that interoperate between Windows DNA and non-DNA networks, databases and applications, according to Chris Olson, group product manager for Microsoft's Enterprise Interoperability Group.

Currently referred to as the Microsoft Enterprise Interop Server, Babylon is expected to incorporate Microsoft's SNA server as the network interoperability and connectivity piece in addition to new data and application integration services. Babylon will ship as part of the next major upgrade of BackOffice, 5.0 (tentatively scheduled to ship during Q2 of 2000).

Babylon will be available to the AS/400 market in several product packages, according to Olson. "The standalone package is installed on Windows NT. It will also be included as a component of BackOffice," he says, adding that Netfinity Servers shipping with BackOffice will include Babylon.

Microsoft Windows DNA, or Distributed Internet Applications architecture, is a development model that enables corporate developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) to design and build distributed business applications using technologies integral to the Windows platform, according to Olson. Windows DNA specifies how to: develop robust, scalable, multi-tier, distributed applications using the Windows platform; extend existing data and external applications to support the Internet; and support a wide range of client devices, maximizing the reach of applications.

"By employing Windows DNA, any organization can build new or extend existing applications that combine the power and richness of the PC, the robustness of client/server computing, and the universal reach and global communications capabilities of the Internet," Olson says.

SNA, or Systems Network Architecture, is a proprietary IBM architecture and set of implementing products for network computing within an enterprise, Olson explains. "It existed prior to and became part of IBM's Systems Application Architecture (SAA) and it is currently part of IBM's Open Blueprint," he says, adding, "With the advent of multi-enterprise network computing, the Internet and the de facto open network architecture of TCP/IP, IBM is finding ways to combine its own SNA within the enterprise with TCP/IP for applications in the larger network."

There are multiple situations where an AS/400 customer would benefit from Babylon, according to Olson. Most notable are:

  • Network Integration--"At the foundation of Babylon, the current network integration capabilities and gateway functionality exists to provide customers with communications between emulation clients and the 400 over SNA or IP protocols," Olson says.
  • Data Integration--"Many customers require access to AS/400 record sets and the inherent DB2 database environment for replication, real-time analysis and application development," Olson says. "The OLEDB data providers included in Babylon provide access to these sources. When combined with other BackOffice technologies these providers become components of powerful solutions. For example, we see many customers who want to do bi-directional replication between their existing AS/400 business systems and Microsoft SQL Server to create warehouses for decision support. We have also seen many end users utilize the OLEDB for AS/400 providers by linking to 'live' AS/400 data directly from within Office products such as Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access. Additionally, we have begun to see many customers building real-time Web applications incorporating AS/400 data by combining the OLEDB providers with Microsoft development tools and Active Server Pages running on IIS."
  • Application Integration--"The Transaction Integrator component (COMTI) of Babylon provides access directly to CICS applications as well as terminal-oriented applications on the AS/400," Olson says. "This provides customers with the ability to create COM objects that encapsulate both the existing business logic as well as the resulting data which can be used to rapidly build new n-tier business processes which can be deployed in numerous ways. Also included in Babylon is the MSMQ-to-MQSeries bridge which will allow customers with the ability to bi-directionally communicate between the two messaging protocols. XML interface support will also be provided."

While the purpose of Babylon is to enable users to run Windows applications that access data from legacy back-ends like the AS/400, mainframe and Unix, more important to Microsoft is that it creates an easier way to migrate off these systems and to future versions of Windows 2000 server, according to Rob Enderle, VP and research leader with Giga Information Group (Santa Clara, Calif.).

"This is primarily for shops where Windows 2000 and legacy systems need to interoperate for an extended period, or during a migration," Enderle says. "Certainly it could be used as a front-end product, but the eventual end would almost always be a cost-driven migration."