If you're an iSeries customer, I suggest that you keep an eye on IBM's Client Access Web site.
In a matter of days, you'll have an opportunity to download a beta version of iSeries Access for Web that IBM will be releasing later this year.
The iSeries Access for Web download is the first in a series of beta releases that will pave the way for the shipment of the complete iSeries Client Access Family of products at the V5R2M0 level. While IBM is not making any public pronouncements about when it will unveil that release, sources within the company are telling me to expect an announcement during July. At that time, IBM is also expected to launch its new line of POWER4-based iSeries servers running the next release of OS/400.
IBM entirely revamped the V5R1M0 release of the iSeries Client Access Family (Product #5722-XW1) last September when it added iSeries Access for Web and WebSphere Host Publisher to the Client Access Family offering. While the Client Access Express component of this offering provides native TCP/IP connectivity between Windows clients and the iSeries, iSeries Access for Web gives browser clients access to iSeries resources such as DB2 queries, print spools, and the Integrated File System. WebSphere Host Publisher is a development tool for Web-enabling 5250 applications.
Since iSeries Access for Web and WebSphere Host Publisher utilize Java servlets to deliver iSeries resources to browsers, they need an application server to support their functions. In the current V5R1M0 release, both products require WebSphere Application Server 3.5. However, since IBM is discontinuing support for this product on December 31, 2002, users will soon need an alternative application server to manage their Java servlets.
With the iSeries Access for Web beta, IBM will give users two options for migrating away from WebSphere Application Server 3.5. The beta will work with both WebSphere Application Server 4.0 and IBM's HTTP Server with the "Tomcat" plug-in from the Apache Software Foundation. While the former product costs $8,000 or $12,000 per CPU, depending on whether you buy the Single Server or Advanced Edition, IBM's HTTP Tomcat Server is free.
Besides supporting new application servers, the iSeries Access for Web beta will offer several other enhancements, including a facility that gives each user a personal folder into which they and other users can place files and messages. This workflow feature will include email facilities that notify users when someone has added an item to their personal folders. In addition, the print spool access facility will add support for Adobe Acrobat so that users can view PDF files from their browsers.
While the first beta release will only include an upgraded version of iSeries Access for Web, sources within IBM indicate that the next beta will also include a new release of WebSphere Host Publisher. Like iSeries Access for Web, the WebSphere Host Publisher beta will support WebSphere Application Server 4.0. However, it is highly unlikely that WebSphere Host Publisher will support the Tomcat plug-in to IBM's HTTP Server.
There is something else you should know about the Tomcat plug-in: IBM intends to drop all support for it over the next couple of years. In its place, the company plans to offer a low-priced version of WebSphere Application Server that can (like Tomcat) run in smaller iSeries servers than current WebSphere releases. Indeed, this is the same version of WebSphere Application Server that I discussed in my article on January 28, 2002 (See "2002: A WebSphere Odyssey for the iSeries?") Suffice it to say that IBM clearly intends to position WebSphere as its application server of choice for the long term.
In short, IBM will likely ship a V5R2M0 release of the iSeries Client Access Family in late July or early August that will fully support WebSphere Application Server 4.0. The same release will likely support WebSphere Application Server 5.0 as well, albeit with minor patches. Since most iSeries customers already have the iSeries Client Access Family, the V5R2M0 release will be available at no cost under Software Subscription. However, one product within the family will support the Tomcat version of IBM's HTTP Server, while another product will likely not support it. As such, your choice of iSeries Web enablement tools will have a definite impact on the application server you use and your overall software expenditures. So, how should you proceed? Here are my recommendations.
- If you only intend to give your users occasional Web access to OS/400 system screens and don't plan on Web-enabling any 5250 applications, consider iSeries Access for Web and the no-charge Tomcat server. However, remember that this product has a limited life from a support standpoint.
- If you intend to give your users frequent Web access to OS/400 facilities or to 5250 applications, your choices get more complex. You can use WebSphere Host Publisher to develop those screens and purchase WebSphere Application Server 4.0. As an alternative, you can wait until IBM ships an entry-level edition of WebSphere Application Server 5.0 for the iSeries that should cost significantly less than WebSphere Application Server 4.0. The entry-level edition will likely ship sometime during the late third or early fourth quarter of this year.
- You may also want to look at alternative Web-enablement products from companies such as Seagull, Jacada, Advanced BusinessLink, and a host of other vendors. These products vary widely in terms of their functionality and price, so consider your requirements carefully before you start shopping. (For a more extensive list of vendors that provide Web tools, see the MC Press Vendor Directory.)
In the midst of all these considerations, you may have been wondering whether IBM also plans to enhance Client Access Express as part of the new V5R2M0 release. Rest assured that some intriguing enhancements are also on the way for this product. I'll have more to say about those enhancements, as well as other enhancements to the iSeries Client Access Family, in a future issue.
Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology.