A Sneak Peek at Microsoft’s Host Integration Server 2000

Some time this summer, Microsoft Corp. expects to roll out the final release of Host Integration Server (HIS) for Windows 2000, widely known by the code name Babylon. Still in beta 1, the server is envisioned by Redmond as the key access point for integration between Windows 2000 and mainframe-based legacy systems.

HIS 2000 builds upon Microsoft’s (www.microsoft.com) current SNA Server for Windows NT, "But HIS is about host integration, not just about being an SNA gateway," says Tad Parker, lead product manager for HIS at Microsoft. Parker foresees integration at the database and transaction, as well as network, layers.

Host integration is a hot industry topic, particularly in light of the growth of commerce over the Internet. A recent study by AMR Research Inc. (www.amrresearch.com) estimates that only 10 percent of all Web sites are integrated with back-end fulfillment systems -- and that’s not the only type of legacy system in need of application integration.

Partners like NetManage Inc. (www.netmanage.com) and BMC Software Inc. (www.bmc.com) are eagerly lining up with Microsoft to support HIS with cross-platform support and advanced system management. NetManage is building two products that will provide HIS with AS/400 and Unix integration. Both are based on NetManage’s Salvo technology. The products are known as NetManage OnWeb Integrator and NetManage T1.

Some observers, however, are questioning whether most integration jobs will require all of the capabilities being considered for HIS. Alternative host integration strategies include enterprise application integration (EAI) tools and XML, points out David Osborne, chief technology officer at Plural Inc. (www.plural.com), a systems integrator previously known as Micro Modeling Associates (MMA).

A Superset of Features

According to Microsoft’s Parker, the specific features in the HIS beta release represents a superset of the capabilities that might appear in the final version of HIS.

"That’s the point of having a beta," Parker notes.

Parker expects the product to move into beta 2 later this spring. Microsoft is still determining whether HIS will be packaged as part of BackOffice for Windows 2000 or be sold as a separate product.

Microsoft’s SNA Server also runs under Windows 2000, and SNA Server already supports Microsoft SQL Server. Many HIS beta customers are in the process of trying out host adapter drivers for non-IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) databases, Parker explains.

Southern California Water Co., already a user of SNA Server, will be working with a host adapter for DB2 for AS/400. Redmond is pondering support for DB2 for OS/390 and RS/6000, as well as for Oracle and older databases such as IBM’s VSAM.

In addition, about 100 HIS beta customers are looking at testing bidirectional replication across multivendor databases.

Other features that are probably definite for inclusion in the final product include TCP/IP support; system management through the Microsoft Management Console (MMC); integration with Active Directory and BizTalk; and continuation in HIS of the COM T1 support introduced in SNA Server.

The Volvo Group Inc. (www.volvo.com) is one customer that has already used Microsoft’s COM T1 support. "Volvo is finding that COM T1 streamlines B2B (business-to-business) commerce," Parker maintains. COM T1 uses IBM CICS transactions together with COM components to support transactions under a two-phase commit protocol. Also through COM T1, CICS transactions can initiate COM+ transactions.

"The connections from HIS are via COM T1 to host applications accessible via APPC. Primarily the target is to take existing host information and make it available to Web and browser users," says Peter Havart-Simkin, senior vice president of strategic development at NetManage.

Windows 2000 also includes first-time operating system support for Microsoft’s MSMQ 2.0 middleware. About 16 months ago, Microsoft shipped an MSMQ/IBM MQSeries middleware bridge based on technology licensed from Level 8 Systems Inc. (www.level8.com).

Redmond is also thinking about building the middleware bridge into HIS, Parker says. If this happens, the bridge will incorporate encryption as well as integrated set-up and management tools.

"We’ll support MSMQ 2.0 as well as the latest edition of MQSeries," Parker predicts.

"You need an MQSeries bridge to get into environments like OS/390 and AIX," says Ed Harbour, director of marketing for connecting e-business at IBM. "We’re helping Microsoft when it comes to integrating W2K into the enterprise. I require all MQSeries products to be manageable through COM as well as through JavaBeans."

Although MQSeries 6.1 can run under Windows 2000, MQSeries 7.1 will "fully exploit" Microsoft’s new operating system, including support for the Active Directory, Harbour says. Currently in beta, MQSeries 7.1 is slated to ship by the end of this year.

There is, of course, an almost unavoidable element of competition when it comes to host integration. IBM’s TCP/IP-based e-Network server could be seen as falling into the same general category as Microsoft’s HIS.

OpenConnect Systems Inc.’s (www.openconnect.com) WebConnect delivers access to mainframe applications using Java applets. Enterprise Application Server, another product from OpenConnect. also performs a lot of similar functions to HIS, although the transaction components are Java-based. "But we’re not doing SNA-to-TCP connectivity," observes Bruce Parker, vice president of corporate development at OpenConnect.

Missing Features

There are some features HIS probably won’t have.

"The missing elements of the HIS 2000 story are a full complement of back-end connectors, a business rules-based development environment, and a way to bring in other host and information types," NetManage’s Havart-Simkin says.

According to Havart-Simkin, 3270 access from directly within HIS is lacking. Microsoft is using a CICS-based solution from Software AG (www.softwareag.com) instead, requiring code to be run on the mainframe. HIS also lacks terminal host access to other non-IBM mainframes, such as those from Bull Corp. (www.bull.com) and Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com), as well as to AS/400 and Unix, he says.

NetManage’s forthcoming OnWeb Integrator addresses these issues by adding support for 3270, 5250, VT, as well as Bull and Unisys terminal access protocols. The product also uses SQL and ODBC to support about 20 different databases.

OnWeb Integrator consists of OnWeb Application Server, as well as a development environment known as OnWeb Designer. Both components will run on NT, in addition to Windows 2000. OnWeb Designer combines a set of back-end system connectors with secure and fault-tolerant, whiteboard-based development environment; drag-drop creation of information rules; and built-in methods of transforming data from back-end sources to information objects.

OnWeb TI, another development environment, is designed to support broader access to both IBM and non-IBM applications. OnWeb TI uses a graphical tool to let developers define application and navigation. Several transactions can be combined into a single operation.

Like IBM’s intentions for MQSeries 6.1, BMC’s plans for its Patrol system monitoring software are two-pronged. Patrol for SNA Server 1.2, due out in May, will "tolerate" HIS; the forthcoming Patrol for HIS will "leverage" it, says Kim Roy, senior product manager for Windows 2000 and NT at BMC.

Patrol for SNA Server can monitor LU connections, as well as memory and CPU consumption, for instance. Patrol for HIS could bring additional log monitoring, AS/400 file sharing access, support for SNA print servers, and monitoring of COM T1 components, explains Rick Baker, lead product developer at BMC. Baker anticipates only slight overlap between the capabilities in Patrol for HIS and Windows 2000’s MMC. BMC’s forthcoming product will probably enter GA at the same time as HIS.

Will all of the capabilities envisioned for the HIS integration environment really be needed for most integration jobs? Opinions vary. But middleware alone can sometimes serve as sufficient glue, contends Plural’s Osborne.

In addition to being the original developer of Microsoft’s MSMQ/MQSeries bridge, Level 8 Systems holds an exclusive agreement with Microsoft to develop, market, and sell non-Windows versions of MSMQ middleware.

Level 8’s cross-platform implementation of MSMQ -- Geneva Message Queuing (GMQ) -- currently runs on MVS, OS/400, VMS -- VAX and Alpha, Solaris -- Sparc and Intel, HP-UX, AIX, SCO-Unix, and Linux.

In building its e-commerce site, Drugstore.com Inc. (www.drugstore.com) chose GMQ for integrating between a Microsoft IIS and SQL Server front end and the mainframe, AS/400, and Unix-based, back-end systems of brick-and-mortar pharmacy chain partners.

Host Integration Meets EAI

Osborne said that he’s been seeing a lot of interest by insurance companies in EAI, as well as investment banks. "A lot of these firms have very complex systems, where you’re talking about integrating information from many different systems – not just mainframes and Windows, but also a lot of Unix."

Players in the increasingly populous EAI market include Scribe Software Inc. (www.scribesoft.com), Mercator Software Inc. (www.mercator.com), and DataMirror Corp. (www.datamirror.com), to name a few.

Scribe, an EAI vendor with more than 500 customers, considers itself to be focused on Microsoft, COM and DCOM. "We concentrate on prepackaged application integration for the midtier, focusing on both migration between packaged apps and integration with custom legacy homegrown apps," says Jim Clarke, CTO and co-founder of Scribe. The choice between HIS and Scribe’s tools is "a build vs. buy decision," Clarke says.

Scribe’s vendor partners include Baan Co. (www.baan.com) and Onyx Software Corp. (www.onyx.com). Scribe plans to take future advantage of bridging between MSMQ and MQSeries, as well as BizTalk’s XML capabilities.

Either EAI or middleware alone can be quicker and less expensive to use than a full-fledged application integration server like HIS, Plural’s Osborne contends.

Middleware also offers the advantage of guaranteed messaging and a choice of synchronous or asynchronous communications.

Rising as an alternative strategy is the Simple Object Application Protocol (SOAP), an effort to standardize XML messaging between disparate systems. "You’re using messaging with an underlying XML architecture, supporting many different data types. My take is that SOAP will become very pervasive," Osborne says.

Also in the XML category is Microsoft’s own BizTalk, opening the possibility that Microsoft might end up cannibalizing itself in the application integration market.

"If Microsoft gets cannibalized, at least it will be Microsoft that’s doing the cannibalizing," reasons Scott Lundstrom, analyst and CTO at AMR. "Microsoft is doing the right thing by being aggressive with multiple approaches. Some [other systems vendors] haven’t learned to do that yet."