AD Tools Network Primer

Perhaps the darkest days for developers in the AS/400 market were those of the “AD/CYCLE”. Not only did AD/CYCLE not work, it still stands today as IBM’s self-indulgent and proprietary software nadir.

Since those dark days, the IBM and AS/400 AD market has recovered. The AS/400 AD road to recovery started with the “AD Program”, established in 1992. This program opened up IBM’s support and endorsement of third party development products targeting the AS/400 and went the extra mile to position the products in the market and validate their functionality. The AD Program was a pre-requisite for IBM’s “Client Series” which established a stronger marketing/sales relationship between the vendor and IBM.

Eight years later, IBM AS/400 Division still supports the basic notion of openness, product positioning and functional validation in the form of the “AS/400 Tools Network”.

This program has evolved to be an outstanding, mature, informative, open vendor program and is worthy of one’s attention. Refreshingly, the AD Tools Network does not subscribe to the “IBM does it all” philosophy, meaning this program probably isn’t popular with IBM’s software division.

The tools that this program promotes are divided into six modernization strategies. Each of these strategies is further subdivided into tool categories. The purpose of this column is to highlight the six main categories.

The first category is entitled Application Reface/Redesign. It generally sorts out modernization tools not requiring a re-write of the original source code. This category has ten subdivisions, perhaps a bit too many to make things simple, but still quite helpful in understanding the mechanics of the tools involved. What a product does and how it works are both important factors: whether a product is a “generator” or a “builder” or “re-facer” can tell you much about the development effort, performance or conversion ease. In these ten categories, IBM has positioned 45 vendors in 62 product categories. I am personally asked many questions about “silver bullets” and magical products to create new GUI interfaces for existing RPG applications. This web site is possibly the best first step for an AS/400 customer. If you can’t find what you need here, then you will probably need to go to a much higher level of expense.

The second category is Business Intelligence. Its eight sub-categories span replication, transformation, OLAP tools, and warehouse management. I counted 98 different products in these categories, so it is safe to say that all bases of BI are covered satisfactorily. Customers will be interested in this category if they have specific requirements for Business Intelligence/Data Warehousing within their enterprise. Otherwise, this site serves only to demonstrate that many tool offerings are available.

E-business and E-commerce is the third strategy category. This covers 15 sections and includes over 100 product categories. I recommend approaching this section with caution. It clearly demonstrates that there are a wide variety of products available for the AS/400 to cover e-business requirements from soup to nuts. However, be warned that to pick the appropriate set of candidate products, it is highly important for a customer to have a complete requirements analysis first. In addition, the customer must have a basic understanding of e-business cycle, infrastructure and development.

Heterogeneous Integration encompasses the tools for the most potentially difficult development challenges. The 12 sub-categories span topics from business object frameworks, CORBA integration, JSP builders, multi-platform generators, to transaction processors. I counted approximately 88 product categories here, but the actual number of products could be greater as a single vendor may have multiple products fitting into a category. This section is for the software specialist needing a precision instrument. I could envision these tools coming with a warning label reading “Warning – these tools are potentially dangerous to your health. To be used only by certified experts.”

The Lotus Notes /Domino Integration category is fairly self-explanatory. Nonetheless IBM has figured out how to sub-divide this into six segments, including the ever popular “Other”. It features another 16 vendors (including Lotus) and 20 product categories. The number of vendors however may be less than the number of product categories because a vendor may have multiple listings for different products fitting into different categories. This section is interesting, because for an AS/400 customer to take full advantage of Domino requires some level of integration with existing back office and transaction systems. Thus, if you are a Lotus customer and have an AS/400, you should look at this section.

The last strategy category is Systems and Application Management. Although this may be a variant of the “other” category it, in my mind, roughly translates to systems management products. While IBM has offerings such as Tivoli, and incorporates many systems management products into the AS/400 system, a customer should be aware that: not everything you may need is available in OS/400 for free; and sometimes Tivoli is just too big or expensive. Thus the list of 13 tool sub-categories, including asset management, availability, backup and recovery, network management, performance tuning, scheduling, and software distribution are all fairly self-evident. However categories such as “system management” may be a little too vague (is it the “other category again”) and “Web Site Management” could easily belong in the e-business section.

Once again, I’m happy to announce that the state of vendor activity and product availability is healthy, and IBM is adding some real value to the vendors by positioning and endorsing these products through the AD Tools Network.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market.

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