Web-to-host access is such a simple approach that it's often been overlooked. As companies scrambled to achieve a Web presence for both internal and public-facing applications, they bought into complicated enterprise application integration schemes, tore up back-end systems in risky replacement initiatives, or bypassed back-end mainframes altogether with redundant infrastructures.

Finally, though, it looks like companies are seeing the light: By adding browser access to existing 3270 and 5250 applications, they can quickly and easily Web-enable mainframe applications.

A new report from IDC confirms that Web to host is moving mainframe and midrange-based data to both internal and external end users at an impressive rate.

In fact, the whole Web-to-host market experienced almost 114 percent growth during 1999, rising to $240 million. Lucinda Borovick, Analyst with IDC and author of the report, predicts that this market will grow six-fold over the next four years, to $1.5 billion. "Web to host is a key component of e-business migration for the significant installed base of IBM mainframe and midrange customers," she says. "Access to corporate mainframe is expanding as companies leverage existing systems to create new e-business applications."

What's really interesting about the findings is the fact that there has been a noticeable shift in proving host access to the outside world. Historically, mainframe host access has been purely an insider's world -- confined to internal employees with PCs or terminals hooked up to the corporate network. Web to host serves this group well, but also promises to crack open the enterprise door to a whole new audience of users -- not just business partners, but also the public at large.

The percentage of Web-to-host deployments to internal users has actually dropped, while the percentage of outside users is growing. (Keep in mind that the pie overall is growing.) Internally, the percentage of corporate users has shifted from 69 percent in 1998 to 61 percent a year later. The percentage of Web-to-host users in an extranet environment grew from 27 percent to 32 percent during the same time. Interestingly, the percentage of public Web users, while still in the minority, has almost doubled in a year's time -- from 4 percent to 7 percent.

"The extranet market gained share as customers were eager to roll out Web-to-host offerings to business partners and remote employees," says Borovick. Driving the growth in public Internet deployments were improving user interfaces, along with widespread adoption of Web-to-host solutions by various government agencies, universities and libraries. She adds that, while government is currently the big driver in Web to host, there is also adoption in the automotive and insurance industries. The public-facing Internet slice is likely to eventually grow to a third of the Web-to-host market. "New products available in 2000 will offer enhanced user interfaces, integration with application servers, and the mission-critical scalability needed to capture the broader base of Internet users," says Borovick.

Borovick predicts that the year 2000 will be a boom year for Web-to-host deployments, particularly in the fourth quarter, which is typically the largest buying cycle in host access. This is when Web to host takes a larger part of planned budgets.

Borovick projects that Web-to-host browser desktop licenses will begin outshipping traditional host access licenses. The installed base of Web-to-host browser licenses will also increase from 4.4 million in 1999 to 50.2 million by 2004. "The availability of wireless Web-to-host offerings will further field license shipments as access to the mainframe reaches a whole new user population," says Borovick. The mobile user provides prime opportunity in this area, she points out.

Ultimately, Borovick sees an ever-widening role for the technology as companies plunge headfirst into B2B e-business. She cites the popularity of middleware platforms, such as IBM's WebSphere, in providing a migration path from the back-end to the Web. "I think that Web to host is the first step in supply-chain rollouts," she comments. "Companies will want to leverage what they have built in Web to host as they move to the e-marketplace."

About the Author: Joseph McKendrick is an independent consultant and author, specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He can be reached at joemck@aol.com.