Based on the inundation of e-business marketing from IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett- Packard, Microsoft, and a host of networking services and hardware vendors, it might appear to the casual observer that the AS/400 is not a player in the e-business marketplace. This is an incorrect perception. The AS/400e means e-business. Yet, many companies develop Web sites on other platforms. Does the AS/400 lack the modern Web capabilities to compete with other platforms? Prior to V4R3, this may have been the case. V4R3, however, put the AS/400 on par with other platforms, and V4R4 pushes the AS/400 into the lead in some areas of e-business. Another common misconception in the marketplace is that the AS/400 costs more than other platforms. Yes, the hardware can cost more, but when all costs are considered, AS/400e is often a less-expensive way of providing the Internet services your company needs.
Static Web Sites
In the static Web-serving environment of a small company that does not require high availability or much system administration, such as backup and recovery, security, and log archive and analysis, the AS/400 may be overkill. For the enterprise, however, the AS/400 should be given strong consideration. A Web site is often the public’s first impression of a company. If the site is unavailable or contains corrupted data, a visitor leaves with a negative impression of the company. The AS/400 is highly accessible via the Web and is known for maintaining the integrity of data.
Another common occurrence that follows the initial implementation of a Web site is growth. This growth is usually measured by the number of hits on the Web site. However, growth will also occur in the number of pages stored on the site and, with e-business, the number and complexity of transactions that are supported by potentially large numbers of users. Anyone familiar with the AS/400 knows the platform can scale from a relatively small server to a very large one. If you created your static Web site on another platform, it would be a simple matter of configuring a Web server and copying files in order to migrate your static site to an AS/400. When a company makes the transition from static pages to dynamic pages and e-business (accessing data or applications from a Web browser), the strengths of the AS/400 begin to clearly distinguish it from other platforms.
Dynamic Web Sites
A dynamic Web site is often attempted as a pilot project. If this project comes in over budget and late and then continues to devour large amounts of time and money, future projects may be jeopardized. To minimize this risk, e-business projects should be deployed on a platform that takes advantage of existing skills, requires minimal manual intervention, and is extremely reliable.
Security also becomes a paramount concern when moving to a dynamic Web site. If you are an AS/400-based business, you know that the AS/400 is the most securable platform available. With your existing skill set, you know how to secure an AS/400, how to develop secure applications, and how to securely access data on your AS/400. These skills, with the addition of a few APIs, can transform your RPG development staff into Web programmers. Protecting the investment in your existing AS/400 applications and leveraging your existing skill set can be reason enough to choose the AS/400 as your e- business platform. To understand all of the advantages of the AS/400 as an e-business platform, let me examine, in detail, its strengths in the following areas: integration, scalability, security, and total cost of ownership.
The AS/400 is a complete solution. Applications and utilities that are purchased separately for other platforms are bundled into OS/400. The Internet features integrated in OS/400 include the following: virtual private network (VPN), secure Web serving (HTTPS), a Digital Certificate Manager (DCM), a standard Web (HTTP) server, a persistent Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programming environment, a Java servlet engine, an Internet programming environment with Net.Data, Domain Name System (DNS), and Network Address Translation (NAT). Also included are standard TCP/IP applications and servers such as Telnet, FTP, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), POP3, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP), Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP), REXEC, Network File System (NFS), and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).
In addition to this long list, OS/400 has always provided integrated security, performance management tools, and interprocess and intermachine communications. High- availability tools were available as OS/400 add-ons before they ever reached the UNIX or NT markets. In addition to these features, the database, one of the most costly additions to many operating systems, is an integral part of OS/400. Although other platforms include some of these system programs, the AS/400 provides all of these features, which are designed to work with one another, at no additional charge.
Today, the largest AS/400 dwarfs mainframes from a few years ago. True scalability, however, involves two other factors that list among the AS/400 strengths: the ability to compete as an entry-level server for small and medium businesses and the ability to smoothly migrate from a smaller system to a larger one with no code changes and minimal manual intervention.
At today’s list prices, the AS/400 hardware and software required to do e-business and serve Web pages that integrate and display business data can cost less than $12,000 for a model 170 Invader server. According to the V4R4 Performance Capabilities Reference, at a 50 Commercial Processing Workload (CPW) rating, the Invader can handle about 59 hits per second, or about 12 static Web pages and all of their graphics. At that rate, a Web site running on this machine could serve 43,000 Web pages in an hour. Will your start-up site generate that much demand? If your Web site stays on a model 170, it can scale to more than 250 Web pages per second. This is true scalability and still at the low end of the
AS/400 range. Even bigger 7XX Northstar server models are available for customers with big e-business workloads.
When you move to e-business, the easiest environment to implement is probably Net.Data. Because you may want to validate your users and secure your data, you will also probably want to use encryption. As it turns out, the combination of Net.Data and encryption is the least effective implementation for performance, reducing throughput on the machine I described to about six Web transactions per second. Six transactions per second translates to more than 21,000 Web transactions per hour. With a better-performing solution such as servlets or CGI programs, you can increase this number to around 11 transactions per second. Keep in mind that the workloads are cumulative and that your Web site will grow. Buying a larger AS/400 than what you immediately need can be more cost effective than paying for several incremental upgrades in the future.
Figure 1 illustrates an e-business scenario in a secure environment. In this case, an e- business server is placed on a perimeter network that is connected to the Internet. This connection between the Internet and your production environment makes optimal use of the integrated, secure communication capabilities of your AS/400. One way you can implement this connection is by creating Advanced Program-to-Program Communication (APPC) controllers to communicate between the systems. When a user requests information stored on the production AS/400 (the price of a product, for example), a Web application posts the product number of the requested item on a remote data queue that is read by the production AS/400. The production AS/400 posts the price to a remote data queue that is read by the Web application, and the Web application then displays the result to the user. It would be a simple configuration change to have the user enter a user ID and password or a client certificate to restrict access to the e-business application.
The above scenario poses little to no threat to the production environment. To even attempt to break into the production system, a malicious user would have to break down the application and system security of the e-business system, a daunting task that has not been accomplished to date. After accomplishing this difficult feat, the intruder would have to circumvent APPC security and post to the data queue in the correct format. To get this far, the user would have accomplished the equivalent of compromising a user profile equivalent to QSECOFR. If all of this were possible, this superhuman user would now be faced with a data queue application on the production system that is configured for read-only access by one specific, unknown user profile.
Other platforms do not offer APPC, data queues, object architecture and security, and the auditing and logging capabilities necessary to create a solution as secure as the AS/400. The integrated security and communication features of the AS/400 provide an extremely secure solution at no additional cost.
Total Cost of Ownership
One of the most compelling reasons to choose AS/400 over other platforms is the total cost of ownership. International Data Corporation published a bulletin (17428) in November of 1998 that detailed the costs of owning a server for three years. (You can find this study on IBM’s Consultant Support Web page at www.as400.ibm.com/ conslt/servselect.htm.) Not only does the total cost of ownership greatly favor the AS/400, but you can also see an interesting relationship between the total cost of hardware and software and the total cost of ownership over three years. The total cost of owning and operating an AS/400 for three years is 2.9 times the total cost of the hardware and software. This multiplier increases to
4.5 for UNIX and 5.4 for Microsoft Windows NT. Decision-makers often err by choosing a platform based on the check they will write today as opposed to the total, long-term costs involved. To assist in the decision, I’ve created a worksheet, shown in Figure 2, that you can use to calculate total costs. Because
of the nature of e-business, I have added services as another cost. Creating e-business applications will require new skills and applications. If CGI is adequate for your needs (and it is for most), then, as I’ve stated, a COBOL or RPG programmer needs to learn only four or five new APIs to become a Web programmer. If a new programming environment or application set is going to be implemented, it will be necessary to budget for training as well. If you are an existing AS/400-based office, a few other factors contribute to the total cost of ownership as shown in Figure 2. These factors include use of your existing skill set (programming and system administration), reuse of your existing source code and applications, use of existing data, and maintenance of all corporate data in a single place.
Weigh Your Options
Using the AS/400 has its disadvantages, and you need to know about them to make an educated business decision. The primary disadvantage of using the AS/400 as an e- business platform is the lack of education and references available for Web-enabling existing data and applications. The skills are relatively easy to learn, but locating the education or references can be difficult. The best sources are often magazine articles and training sessions. Another disadvantage can be the AS/400’s lack of exposure. It can be difficult to convince executives that the AS/400 is a superior Web platform when they have only heard of other platforms. This can be especially difficult because IBM often leads with other platforms.
These disadvantages can sometimes appear to be insurmountable obstacles. However, the technical and cost advantages I’ve detailed outweigh them. It is common sense to investigate all of the costs associated with any solution. After a thorough investigation, I am sure that you will discover the AS/400 provides a cost-effective platform to create secure e-business applications with many of the skills and resources you already possess.
References and Related Materials
IBM’s Consultant Support Web page: www.as400.ibm.com/conslt/servselect.htm
Production AS/400 Production/Secure Network
Figure 1: This network diagram demonstrates what a secure AS/400 e- business solution looks like.
Item AS/400 NT Solution UNIX Hardware
Web Server Software
Backup and Recovery
Total HW and SW Costs
TCO Multiplier 2.9 5.4 4.5 Total Cost of Ownership
Figure 2: Use this worksheet to calculate the total cost of ownership of the AS/400.