Jacada Connects e-Commerce Apps, Legacy Data

E-commerce application developers have traditionally faced a monolithic task when it comes to providing online customers with access to existing AS/400 logic and data--a process that often requires modifications to legacy application code and data structures, or at least intimate knowledge of the same. However, Atlanta-based Jacada Inc. (formerly CST Inc.) promises to simplify access to AS/400 legacy applications with Jacada Connects, a suite of e-commerce development tools that offer the capability to quickly catalog host application screens and provide access to those screen through an open Java API.

Jacada Connects is available in three flavors: Jacada Connects for Java-based application integration; Jacada Connects for integration with Lotus Notes and Domino; and Jacada Connects to HTML for integration to Web servers. Jacada describes the software as a "server-based Java application that provides Java integration to any client or server."

The software can be deployed on Windows NT or Unix servers, or it can run natively on the AS/400 or mainframes to provide an open method of integration through the Java API, which is accompanied by example templates. Jacada Connects includes: KnowledgeBase, a set of rules for reading and understanding host screens and converting those screens into GUI controls; and Automated Conversion Environment, which takes host application screens and uses the KnowledgeBase to generate a graphical equivalent for each screen.

To go beyond simple database access, one major challenge faced by AS/400 e-commerce developers is that more than 85 percent of legacy applications are linear by design; that is, the transaction and business logic is tightly integrated with interface code, says David Holmes, senior VP of marketing at Jacada. "In those kinds of applications, developers can't get at the RPG or Cobol code, and the data they can access doesn't contain the business logic. Rewriting the legacy application to provide access to the business logic could cost millions of dollars. The big education campaign for us was the issue of reusing legacy business logic, and the reason we're able to do this is the native Java API. We leverage the knowledge base that a 5250 green screen uses in the application and extend it to the GUI."

According to the company, e-commerce developers need only some familiarity with a legacy application's user interface. Jacada Connects uses 5250 and 3270 connectivity, combined with navigation rules accessible via the Java API. This allows developers to quickly and easily "capture" existing application functionality. Any tool or application that can communicate with a Java class can use Jacada Connects.

Industry analysts agree that the integration of e-commerce applications with legacy data has been a thorn in the sides of developers, and that the Jacada Connects line of tools should ease the pain associated with this process.

"The greatest e-business challenge is integrating the GUI with back-end systems," says David Marshack, senior VP of e-business strategies and solutions at Patricia Seybold Group Inc. (Boston). "Jacada has the tremendous ability to connect to legacy data, encapsulate it, and then use Java to pull it out and deliver it to a Java application. Rewriting these applications is very difficult, and people also often don't know the long-term future of them. Jacada is one method of solving this problem so people can roll out their e-commerce applications faster, mainly due to the openness of the Java API they use."

Users of Domino on the AS/400 can use Java as a scripting language for building e-commerce applications, but they still cannot leverage their existing business logic written in RPG or Cobol. With Jacada Connects for Domino, however, this is no longer an issue, says Kelly Schmotzer, IBM's worldwide marketing manager for Domino on the AS/400.

"This product really knocked our socks off and our AS/400 customers who have seen it are very excited," she says. "We haven't seen any other company do this using an open Java API. Our customers think that when they put Domino on their system they have to rewrite their legacy applications, but the objective is to leave the legacy applications as they are. Jacada Connects is very powerful because Domino users can leave their business logic as it is and still bring it users."

On August 16, Jacada announced version 6.0 of its Jacada product, which includes support for additional deployment platforms, increased scalability and reliability, expanded administration capabilities and signed applets.