Web-to-Host Connectivity: Web-to-Host Can Help Unisys Get Serious About e-Business

I’ve often wondered if it’s wise for Unisys to run those ads showing consultants thinking about a customer problem while dancing at a nightclub, or teeing off on a golf course. Does this send a message that Unisys consultants have too much leisure time on their hands? Then again, I imagine it’s hard to really enjoy yourself when you have a 17-inch monitor for a head.

The October e-business announcement demonstrates that the Unisys folks are probably taking very little, if any, leisure time. Unisys has made it known that it wants to grow its e-business sales from 18 percent to more than half of its revenues within the next two years.

It’s about time – Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and IBM have stolen the show up to this point. These and other vendors have preached (and sometimes even practiced) e-business for years, while Unisys struggled with its brands and identity in a changing marketplace.

Of course, announcing that you’re an e-business provider and actually delivering on it are two separate things. Vendors, such as Unisys and IBM, have to lead double lives, presenting a hip, cutting-edge e-business face to the world. But they know where much of their bread is still buttered – in the large-scale mainframe markets. Plus, Unisys needs to distinguish itself from every other major software and service vendor between New York and Los Angeles presenting itself as an e-business provider.

To Unisys’ credit, the company has laid out an impressive migration path with its Wintel-based systems with mainframe-like performance. The company’s newly announced Enterprise Server ES7000, a 32-way Wintel mainframe, is a real head-turner. The company’s ace in the hole is the mainframe sensibilities, vertical market expertise and talent it offers the Wintel world.

While the role of Unisys’ mainframes in e-business tend to be understated, they, too, will be driving many e-business initiatives at Unisys sites. A recent survey finds that nearly two-thirds of Unisys mainframe users see the potential of their platforms, with plans to integrate their legacy systems with the Web.

There are already a number of ways for Webifying back-end Unisys hosts, including Unisys’ own ActiveLINC to Cool ICE. A relatively new discipline on the scene, Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), enables developers to set up "composite applications" that automatically draw data off selected back-end applications – through messaging or integration broker technology – and channel it to end users. The portal and thin client movements provide browser-based presentations to help end users navigate to information they need, wherever it resides. However, many middleware solutions either require some back-end integration work, or the purchase and installation of new packages.

Web-to-host is one of the surest and quickest paths to achieving e-business functionality off currently running applications. Typical Web-to-host installations include Java capabilities, browser-based access, security, management, and Web publishing capabilities. The opportunities are ripe – industry estimates show that eight out of 10 Unisys host-access environments are still "thick-clients," or PC-to-mainframe.

It’s not clear if Larry Weinbach, CEO of Unisys, calculated Web-to-host deployments as part of the current 18 percent of Unisys e-business projects. But if he wants to take the company past the halfway mark, it would serve him well to actively promote and support Web-to-host solutions, since every mainframe is a potential e-business platform.

For, perhaps, the first time in its rocky history, Unisys has a set of platforms and services that can all support the same vision – moving customers from bricks-and-mortar to clicks-and-mortar environments. The company’s greatest challenge is to marshal its impressive array of talent, technology and resources to all move in the same direction to fulfill this vision. Hopefully, this includes helping to cut through the confusion and hype in the market about what it takes to become an e-business. A lot of perfectly functioning systems have been torn up, and millions of dollars spent on well-hyped e-business systems that deliver far less value than the systems they replaced.

The bottom line is that the e-business end user doesn’t care whether his or her data is coming from an A Series, 2200 Series or ES7000 machine on the back end. With the right approaches and tools, all these systems support e-business with equal robustness and effectiveness. Hopefully, with all the excitement Unisys hopes to create with its new e-business, it will not downplay Web-to-host as a surefire way to unleash the power of its installed base of systems.

About the Author: Joseph McKendrick is a research consultant and author whose firm, McKendrick & Associates (Doylestown, Pa.), specializes in surveys, research and white papers. He can be reached at joemck@aol.com.