Windows 2000 Not Expected to Enhance Microsoft's Host-Connectivity Offerings

Well, the word is out: Microsoft Corp. isn't incorporating any significant new AS/400- or SNA-related technologies in its much-anticipated Windows 2000 release. And while this may come as an unpleasant surprise to some of the AS/400 IT departments that are "doing time" with Windows NT, the truth is that Microsoft's SNA Server platform-now in version 4.0-already provides substantive gateway services between Windows NT and host-based systems. But is Microsoft doing enough?

"There is nothing new in Windows 2000 specifically for the AS/400," says Lauren Wooster, a liaison with Microsoft public relations representative Waggener-Edstrom.

Over the past two years, however, Microsoft has done its part to make SNA Server-a BackOffice family server platform that provides integration services between Windows NT and host-based "legacy" systems-a viable solution for enterprise IT organizations.

In the past, the software giant traditionally adhered to a strategy of positioning SNA Server as an investment-protecting technology: a tool to be deployed if an enterprise must stay with its existing investment in "legacy" systems.

"SNA Server was primarily about preservation of investment," says Kevin Kean, group product manager for Windows communication products at Microsoft. The introduction of SNA Server 4.0 changed this, however, bringing a number of additional technologies to the table that allowed Windows NT Server to become a more active participant in host-based networks and vice versa.

In the early months of 1997, Microsoft unveiled two technology initiatives-code-named, respectively, "Cedar" and "Thor"-that marked a departure from its traditional position vis-à-vis Windows NT and host-integration. "Cedar," which has been renamed "COMTI" and which now ships with SNA Server 4.0, is a transaction integrator for IBM's CICS/IMS and Microsoft's COM-based Microsoft Transaction Server transaction processing (TP) environments. In a departure for Microsoft, COMTI proposes to bring the ostensibly "legacy" TP environments of CICS and IMS completely into the client/server fold by packaging them as MTS components that can be used with other MTS components for building distributed applications.

The erstwhile "Thor"-now freshly redubbed "OLE DB Provider for AS/400"-is probably of greatest interest to AS/400 users. Making its formal appearance in Service Pack 2 for SNA Server 4.0, Thor provides record-level access to both physical and logical files on the AS/400, enabling Microsoft clients and servers to access the AS/400's VSAM data stories through an SNA Server.

But Microsoft's track record in the host-integration arena hasn't been without a few bumps of its own. Throughout much of 1997, the company kept mum on a project-code-named "Cakewalk"--that was to provide much-needed replication services between Microsoft's own SQL Server and IBM's top-notch DB2 database environments. In its final form, Cakewalk would have provided a "snapshot" replication of DB2 data from either IBM AS/400 or System 390 computers.

At one point, Microsoft officials even refused to acknowledge that Cakewalk even existed. Things came together in the end, however, as Cakewalk's underlying technology eventually made its appearance in Microsoft's Host Data Replicator for SQL Server.

Paul Morse, SNA server product manager with Microsoft, says Microsoft's new make-nice-with-legacy-systems approach is conditioned by real-world business practices.

"With Windows NT server being right next to the AS/400 [in a lot of environments], it doesn't make sense to treat [AS/400s] as islands," Morse explains. "It makes sense to integrate them as much as you can. To that end, the features of SNA Server help you with that integration."

While Microsoft hasn't incorporated any significant new host-integration tools or technologies in the forthcoming Windows 2000, future versions of SNA Server will likely attempt to augment interoperability between Windows NT and host-based systems. Next on Microsoft's SNA Server to-do list: increasing client/server-to-host application integration.

"SNA Server is moving from being a gateway to being a gateway and an applications integration platform," says Microsoft's Kean. "The ability to move transactions across asynchronous messaging is something people have talked about for a long time."

"The irony in all of this," says Rob Enderle, a senior analyst with consultancy Giga Information Group (Cambridge, Mass.), "is that Microsoft's host-integration efforts may end up hurting AS/400 sales in the long run. Because Windows NT Servers running SNA Server 4.0 can now perform crucial tasks, such as accessing the AS/400's record-level VSAM files, IT organizations can, in some cases, implement inexpensive Intel-based servers to assume a workload or function that might otherwise have been performed by an AS/400."