MS Forever," the banner proclaims.
Tour IBM's facility in Santa Teresa, Calif., and you can't miss it. Given the thousands of users that still run this 35-year-old IBM hierarchical database, you can't argue with it, either.
Elsewhere in corporate America, VSAM flat files, CICS transactions, and Cobol applications crank out paychecks, airline reservations, and other modern mainstays.
These legacy technologies-ancient relics by the standards of today's fast-moving IT industry-are getting a makeover. The World Wide Web, better known as the technology of hackers, chat rooms, and a bookstore called Amazon.com, is extending the viability of the oldest computer systems on earth. New products that offer Web access to legacy systems are changing the way business gets done. "Internet tools provide the opportu
nity to unleash legacy data," says Dave Tryon, IBM's program director for System/390 network computing.
These products are also helping IT managers preserve mountains of software. An often-repeated bit of industry wisdom says that 70% of all business information still resides in mainframe databases. Cobol apps alone account for an estimated 150 billion lines of code, according to IBM, which also puts the value of user companies' total investments in legacy code at an astounding $5 trillion.
To help users gain Web access to this mountain of legacy data, vendors are rushing in with products. Among them are companies that have updated terminal-emulation software, including Wall Data Inc. in Kirkland, Wash., and Apertus Technologies Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn. They're being joined by new companies with new products, including OpenConnect Systems Inc. in Dallas. Though total sales of these Web-to-legacy products came to just $35 million last year, that figure could soar to $1 billion by 2000, predicts Cind
y Borovick, a program manager with International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.
The Dreyfus Corp., a mutual funds company in New York, is an early adopter of Web access to legacy data. But the company, a unit of Mellon Bank N.A. that manages a portfolio valued at $84 billion, had to do a lot of work to integrate its mainframe CICS transactions and Netscape Navigator browser. Previously, Dreyfus used a private dial-up network from MCI with both PC and terminal-emulation software running on the PCs. To get to the new system, they wrote a lot of C code, used interface technology from Apertus, and ran encryption hardware from MCI. "We had to build a zillion things ourselves to make it work," says Sri Gupta, manager of application systems for Dreyfus. "The integrity and accuracy of the data is critical because these are multimillion-dollar broker trades, where updates m
ust take place as they're posted."
Gupta says the hard work paid off. Today, Dreyfus still uses its dial-up network for some applications, but Gupta may move the Web project beyond its current 400 brokers. Opportunities include online prospectuses, fund histories, and chat boxes with investors. "It's big business," Gupta says.
There are several reasons behind the growing acceptance of Web access to legacy data. For one, Web-browser technology is designed for the least technical users, which breaks down the green-screen barriers to working with legacy data. At the same time, Web activity is server-centric. This appeals to IS executives who care about manageability, since all data for Web activity can reside on the central server, eliminating the need to support local data across offices, states, or nations. Also, the Web interface requires no changes to the legacy system. Finally, Web-to-host gateways bring the vast resources of traditional host environments to browser users. Wit
h these products, any browser client can now access host data.
Also, corporate attitudes toward legacy systems are changing. "From 1985 to 1995 we all said, `Let's migrate legacy data to client-server architectures.' But migration has been way more expensive than we thought, late-if delivered at all-and it requires a lot of coding," says George Kafkarkou, VP of sales and marketing for Infresco Corp., a Sarasota, Fla., unit of Computer Associates that markets the Opal Web-to-legacy tool. By contrast, he says, today's tools don't require changes to the legacy system, are inexpensive to maintain, and create applications that are easy to deploy.
Even cautious IS executives are beginning to trust Web-to-legacytools. Companies this year won't have to go through what Dreyfus did in 1996. That leads Borovick of IDC to expect sales for software vendors in the Web-to-legacy-data market to grow from $35 million in 1996 to $1 billion in 2000. "The market is moving so fast, I can't p
inpoint vendors," she says.
Borovick says it's important to get the right kind of tool for the job. Java is preferred for intranets, butconversion tools are better for Internet access, Borovick says. Java is useful in these applications because it is open, provides security, and offers network optimization, manageability, and extensibility. It also reduces costs, complexity, and risk.
One IS chief appreciates the maturity of today's Web tools. "They're proven technology," says Jerry Tonkovich, president of Network Data Express in Seattle. "Browsers have become widespread and well enough accepted to make them appealing." Network Data Express is a subsidiary of Regence Group, a conglomerate of Blue Cross insurance companies in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and soon Utah that provides electronic commerce to the health-care industry. In Washington alone, Network Data Express is responsible for commerce between its parent companies and 800 health-care providers, from hospitals to doctor and dental offices.
On Sept. 1, Tonkovich hopes to switch on a Web-to-VSAM file interface based on tools from S2 Systems Inc. in Dallas. Network Data Express oversees data from legacy systems sent out to providers in standard format, and transfers ANSI-format files from the providers to the proprietary VSAM format.
Another trend contributing to the marriage of legacy systems and the Internet is a lack of expertise. Many VSAM, IMS, and Cobol experts are leaving their jobs to become independent consultants in a bid to reap huge salaries as year 2000 consultants; others retire. Web technology lets companies create front-end functionality without needing programmers to alter the mission-critical back end.
One apparel manufacturer turned to a Web interface when it got tired of accounting delays on its legacy system. Henry I. Siegel Company Inc. in New York manufactures Chic and H.I.S. jeans and has a full range of homegrown financial, distribution, and logistics applications based on the JCL legacy programming language and
CICS. Documentation became an issue. Only one employee knew the function required to restart the system, and often that person wasn't around. "People come and go, or we just can't find the one person who knows a system," says Cynthia Ginet, Siegel's assistant director of data-processing operations. "Even worse, when people left, new people on staff didn't know the reports." Ginet will never forget the final straw: "We were short $63.75, and we lost a whole day figuring out how to balance it. Things weren't documented, so it was impossible."
So Ginet is turning to Infresco's Opal 2.0 for creating documents, and to both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer for legacy-system access. She hopes to finish the first application-accounts receivable-by August.
Some companies are most interested in doing nothing-they want to leave legacy systems alone, but gain application functionality that includes valuable data from those systems. Network Data Express looked to S2 Systems for a consolidated
interface. But S2 also helped the group avoid a computing architecture that would have required rewriting the entire legacy system.
Software vendors are weighing in on the subject of easier maintenance. "The issue is about legacy data and minimizing the costs and risks of adopting this new computing paradigm of the Internet," says Guy Hoffman, president of OpenConnect. The company's OC://WebConnect Pro delivers browser access to SNA applications through any device with a Java-capable browser; and its OpenVista development tool creates Java applets to replace green screens with GUI front ends. "So I go to the world's richest, most bulletproof data and talk about how we can Web-enable them." Vista changes the look of the interface so users don't know they're working off the legacy system.
Charles Nichols, S2's product marketing manager, says the attraction of easier maintenance is a matter of money. "A lot of companies have legacy systems that they've invested millions in," says Nichols, "but they do
n't any longer have the expertise or personnel to modify the systems, because they retired."
Another vendor believes the Web computing paradigm is changing the client-server computing paradigm because of maintenance. Steve Gimnicher, VP of marketing at Apertus, says, "A lot of the work with business logic on the client escalated administration and led to headaches and costs for IS executives." He believes the Web pushes applications to be server-based.
Rewards Of Deep Drilling
The greatest benefit of Web access to legacy data, says Mike Conchatre, is getting more information out of VM running on an IBM mainframe than he's ever gotten before. And that, he says, is translating into new discoveries. Conchatre is the IS manager for Canada's largest wildlife conservation group, Ducks Unlimited in Stonewall, Manitoba. More than 7,000 volunteers from 40 offices nationwide access information on the mainframe via TCP/IP and EnterpriseWeb/VM server software from Beyond Software Inc. in San Jose, Ca
Conchatre's favorite legacy system is an Adabas database from Software AG. "We're writing applications quicker with a Web browser than we did with 3270 emulation," says Conchatre. The users don't look at 3270 screens-the legacy interface standard-but they're looking at all the Adabas information. "We put in hyperlinks to drill down to levels deeper than we ever could with 3270 emulation," he says. "For our next step, when we write applications from now on, we're not even writing 3270 emulation."
That technical decision should have a positive impact on volunteers -and ducks. Applications include biological, administrative, fund-raising, and conservation data. "They're legacy applications, but you'd never know by looking at them," says Conchatre. "The deeper drilling lets people track mallards to look at what nest cover they select and how successful it is. Do they pull it off, or do predators get it?"
Regardless of the types of predators companies deal with, most of them will continue to maint
ain legacy systems well beyond the turn of the century. How users interact with those systems, however, is changing forever.
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Accessing Relational Databases
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