Cisco and IBM have adopted directly opposing strategies to bring Web functions into their heartland of mainframe-based data.
On Monday, Cisco will unveil two products, one to convert IBM SNA data to HTML and the other providing a TCP/IP stack for mainframes. Meanwhile, IBM announced at the Internet World show a range of functions for its S/390 mainframes, to make them behave as powerful Web servers.
IBM is keen to raise the mainframe's profile as a suitable product for the Internet world by converting it into a Web server and converging its own network, SNA, with IP, on which the Internet is based. Cisco's approach is to leave the legacy data and network protocols unchanged in the data centre, while allowing users to access them using modern Web front end tools and IP. By incorporating a TCP/IP stack in the server, "the whole network becomes IP", said the company.
Cisco's Webconnect product allows users to view legacy data, supporting IBM's System Network Architecture (SNA), with a standard Web browser. Developers can also create Web-based interfaces for mainframe applications using a new tool called Open Vista, or companies can continue to use mainframe emulators with Webconnect.
Future releases of the product will also allow PCs to send print jobs and file transfers to the mainframe.
IBM claims companies can now use its mainframes to host enterprise quality Web applications and also provide users with browser-based facilities for data mining through legacy data. It is vital for the company's lucrative mainframe product lines' survival that they should be perceived as appropriate Web vehicles, say analysts.
Among the new features are an extension of the OS/390 operating system's Workload Manager to handle Web-based workloads and prioritise them according to managers' requirements. Also, the Internet Connection Secure Server (ICCS) handles data mining by enabling the server to cope with up to 100 simultaneous requests.
Howard Richmond, an analyst with the Gartner Group, believes mainframes are appealing as Web servers because they have better scheduling functions and sheer horsepower than Unix or NT servers, and are centralised and so easier to manage.
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