Web-to-Host Connectivity: No Longer an Insider's Game

The year 2000 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been for the IT community. As the year began, it quickly became apparent that the Y2K bug had been squashed like a – well, bug.

There wasn’t much time to celebrate – building b-to-b e-business systems that integrate CRM, ERP and wireless access quickly filled up corporate agendas.

The year was also marked by another development, representing a major shift in the way end users access mainframe applications. IDC reports that Web-to-host browser desktop licenses have begun outshipping traditional host access licenses. In other words, the browser rules, even within corporate firewalls.

In another interesting development, IDC confirms that the share of companies adopting Web to host to move data to outside end users is also on the rise. It seems that amid the e-business and e-commerce hype and hoopla, cooler heads are prevailing.

Too often, in the rush to achieve a Web presence for, both internal and public-facing applications, many companies 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. Security, uptime and business continuity almost became afterthoughts in the rush to presence.

Web to host represents a relatively efficient means to add browser front-ends to existing applications, and quickly Web-enable mainframe applications. However, this approach – not well understood outside IT departments – has been quietly taking root beneath the e-business radar.

The Web-to-host market experienced an almost 114 percent growth over the past year, rising to $240 million. This growth isn’t merely terminal replacements occurring within company walls, either. In fact, 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: the general public. The percentage of Web-to-host users in an extranet environment grew from 27 percent to 32 percent during the same time. The percentage of public Web users, while still in the minority, has almost doubled in a year’s time.

Ups and Downs

The percentage of deployments to internal users has actually dropped, while the percentage of outside users is growing. The percentage of corporate users has shifted from 69 percent in 1998 to 61 percent in 1999.

"The extranet market gained share as customers were eager to roll out Web-to-host offerings to business partners and remote employees," says Lucinda Borovick, an analyst with IDC. 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 notes that, while government is currently the big driver in Web to host, there is also adoption in the automotive and insurance industries.

In fact, 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.

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. In fact, the mobile user provides prime opportunity in this area, she points out.

Web to host is a "key component of e-business migration" for mainframe companies, says Borovick. "Access to corporate mainframe is expanding as companies leverage existing systems to create new e-business applications."

For those of you being inundated with e-business approaches and products, take heart. E-business enabling key back-end applications may be less complicated than you think.