IBM Poised to Unveil Turnkey Host Access Product

HATS facilitates Web browser access to host applications.

IBM Corp. yesterday introduced a new component of its Host Integration Solutions (HIS) product suite. Big Blue says Host Access Transformation Server (HATS) is a turnkey product that can quickly facilitate access to host applications by means of a Web browser interface.

IBM currently markets a similar product, Host Publisher, which it refreshed earlier this year. According to Mark Heid, WebSphere host integration business unit manager, HATS is a rule-based tool that makes it possible for mainframe and iSeries shops to expose host data in far less time than with Host Publisher.

“HATS would be for the company or division within an enterprise that is not rich in IT talent but still wants to make the traditional green screen work for them. Host Publisher requires programming skill, but it is also a more sophisticated environment,” Heid explains.

Ed McCabe, IBM product manager for HATS, claims that HATS can expose most host applications in “less than two hours.” He acknowledges that mainframe and iSeries shops might be skeptical of this claim, but maintains that in its default configuration, HATS simply applies presentation rules to green screens as they are encountered. “For example, it will do things like skip through some green screens programmatically, bypassing extraneous green screens. There’s a rule that says whenever [it] sees one of those screens show up, simulate a PF12 to the host and there’s no user interaction,” McCabe explains.

While it’s not as configurable as the more powerful Host Publisher, McCabe says that HATS nevertheless lets an organization customize the presentation logic of host data, such as inserting corporate banners or other information into the flow. Moreover, he points out, enterprising mainframe shops can also pass data from HATS to WebSphere, which lets them add new business logic to a data flow, or branch out to a secondary application to pull information from a flow.

HATS also lets systems programmers consolidate several application green screens into a single Web view. Like the other products in IBM’s HIS suite—namely Host Publisher and Host on Demand—HATS ships with its own portlet, making it possible for an IT organization to provide users with centralized portal access to host applications.

“You can bring the whole host conduit up and make it appear in a little window in a portal to package apps and other things that people need to do their daily work,” Heid explains.

Many Shops Still Using Terminals

Tyler McDaniel, a director with consultancy Hurwitz Group, speculates that organizations in specific vertical markets—healthcare, manufacturing and government, among others—have lagged behind IT shops in other spaces (such as the financial and telecommunications industries) in exposing their mission-critical green screen applications in a graphical environment.

“I even still see a lot of companies, particularly in healthcare, who haven’t even Web-enabled some of their most mission-critical stuff,” he asserts.

It’s for customers like these, McDaniel argues, that a tool such as HATS makes the most sense. “[Systems programmers in these environments are] already going to know their transaction systems very well, and they’re going to know what their users require, but this lets them push [host applications] into a new environment without nearly so much work,” agreeing that IBM’s estimate of two hours of work is feasible for “for a typical application that is not huge.”

Lucinda Borovic, director of data center networks with market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), concurs. Moreover, she suggests, IT organizations that have already exposed their first-tier green screen applications to a graphical environment could use HATS to easily do the same for their second-tier applications.

“Everyone’s time is short, so it’s kind of like how do I balance the needs in getting the most important applications [to users in graphical environments], but if they know that this is something that will take them a short amount of time, they might be more willing to [undertake the] move,” she comments.

The business case for exposing host applications by means of a Web browser is an easy one to make, these analysts say. They point to the higher productivity levels associated with workers in graphical environments, and say it’s easier to train users to work in a graphical environment than with a console-based green screen. “The information in your company that runs your business, typically, you’d like to make it available to as many users as possible,” Borovic notes. “[There have] always been limitations to this because of the end user interface, and it certainly wasn’t worth the training costs in the past. But with this product, you can easily open up this information in a Web browser.”

Heid says that IBM will make available a pre-sales tool to prospective customers so that they can estimate how much money they’ll save by exposing host applications by means of HATS.

HATS is currently in beta and will ship in December.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.