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Remote Access: When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Have AS/400-Internet Access

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Everyone wants AS/400 access over the Internet, but no one seems to agree on the best way to accomplish it. This article takes a high-level overview of what your options are for Internet-based remote access to your AS/400 and what benefits and problems each approach offers.

Your boss just left your office, grumbling that remote users need to be able to access your AS/400 through the Internet—now. There is no time to rewrite applications. Remote access has to be available immediately, or something is going to hit the fan.

In this article, the final installment of my three-part series on remote access solutions, I intend to present some solutions to the Internet-now scenario I just described. I’ll discuss some emerging technologies that may not be solid today but will become increasingly important in the future. I’ll start by bringing to light the thin client paradigm, and I’ll explain how it is evolving to the Internet. Then, I’ll contrast thin client with some other possible solutions that can help satisfy your boss’s requirement to get AS/400- Internet access for your remote users—sooner rather than later. I end the article with some security considerations and my own recommendations for which solutions I believe will stand the test of time and serve your organization the best.

Thin Client Implementation

The thin client approach deals with communications between a desktop and a server. The server performs graphics rendering, calculations, networking calls, database calls, and printing. The client accepts only the updated network data streams and displays screens and processes printouts. Because the client performs minimal work, we call it a thin client. And, whenever you have a thin client, you need a fat server (one that has lots of processing power, RAM, hard drive space, etc.).

This type of solution is now being ported to the Web. A current demo from Citrix (www.citrix.com) renders surprising performance. Keystrokes and input are processed quickly with little latency in the update.

Up to this point, Citrix has been the main player that is serving thin clients to the Web. However, Microsoft’s current thin client implementation is a port of Citrix’s, so look to Microsoft to support this in the very near future.

So now, I’ll quickly describe how this architecture works. Suppose one of your remote users is connected to the Internet. He brings up special software that is installed on his PC. This software ties into your fat server and receives screen updates. In your situation, the fat server could be serving out Client Access/400 and other applications that you use internally. And guess what: The screens your user is seeing are identical to what he’d see if he were directly connected. This translates into less training and fewer calls for your help desk employees, who are using the same software.

What I really like about this solution is that there is only a single piece of software installed on the remote user’s PC, no matter what is used internally. Imagine you are a network administrator for a company that has at least 10 individually packaged applications on each desktop. Using a thin client implementation, you can install one piece of software that lets your remote users access all 10 applications and whatever else is on your fat server. You need not install anything on the remote system except the remote software.

Contrast this with the hassle of installing all 10 pieces of software and getting them to work together, and you begin to appreciate the obvious advantage here. A single piece of software reduces the number of points of disturbance on your remote client. A point of disturbance is a piece of software that could conflict with another piece of software. Once any potential conflicts are worked out on the fat server, you eliminate conflicts on the thin client.

The major downside to this solution is that it is still vaporware. Expect approximately one year for the proof of concept to occur. At that point, I believe you will see this scenario being deployed in large quantities.

One additional problem is that Citrix is one of the only vendors supporting this form of thin client. IBM, for example, performs its thin client implementation on a thin client device. When you boot this device, you must download the operating system that sits in main memory. If your base operating system is 3 MB, you will typically have to wait 10 to 15 minutes on a 28.8 kilobits per second (Kbps) modem. I can tell you that if my users have to wait 10 to 15 minutes for their systems to start up, they start screaming.

Client Access Direct Connect

With Client Access/400 supporting the TCP/IP protocol, nothing is stopping you from attaching your AS/400 to the Internet and having your users connect to the AS/400 from the Internet. You can easily do it, but you must take special precautions to make the connection secure.

By using the Internet, you can provide your users with the same interface, whether they are locally or remotely connected. Client Access/400 is installed on the remote user’s system. Once connected to the Internet—via modem, cable modem, ISDN, asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), etc.—the remote user simply starts Client Access and the connection is completed.

TCP/IP was initially designed and deployed on slower links (less than 2,400 bps). The protocol can handle slow links between a remote user and the server (in our case, an AS/400). When the Internet is slowing down from high use, your response time will decrease, but you will still be able to operate.

So, if you’re able to use the Internet to deliver the same interface to your users no matter where they are located, is there a downside? Your primary exposure is security. Several different components are included in Client Access. Each of these can potentially operate on a different TCP/IP port. At your firewall—and you should always have a

firewall—you will have to open up all of these ports. This situation provides hackers with additional entrances into your network.

Also, you cannot impose encryption. Client Access/400 performs some encoding of user IDs and passwords, but it currently does not perform standards-based encryption such as Secured Sockets Layer (SSL). About a year ago, IBM field engineers began to push for implementing SSL in the operating system. This implementation would allow all applications, including Client Access, to take advantage of encryption. With the new IBM AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows (Express Client), SSL encryption is beginning to be implemented, providing a huge security feature.

The other problem with this solution is that it does not encompass other applications. It is limited to Client Access only. Services such as file and printer sharing from a Windows NT Server do not function over this arrangement without installing additional software. Only applications that are strictly TCP/IP based and perform name resolution using Domain Name System (DNS) can work over the Internet. And with additional applications, additional ports have to be opened on your firewall.

Screen Refacing

Screen refacing technology has been building steam for a while with companies such as SEAGULL Software (www.seagullsw.com) pioneering the way. With screen refacing, the 5250 data stream is hidden from the user and a nice graphical interface is presented instead. The reasoning behind this approach is that, because a 5250 green-screen is considered clunky and obtrusive, putting a graphical interface over it allows the screen to become more appealing to a Windows-oriented user.

If you have Client Access/400 installed, you can see an example of screen refacing in action. There is a licensing deal between SEAGULL and IBM to include SEAGULL’s Graphical Access screen refacing product as part of IBM’s Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT product. The nice thing about using Graphical Access in the Windows 95/NT client is that it is included in the base support of Client Access/400, and you do not need a Client Access license to use it. For the Windows 95/NT client, this means that Graphical Access is essentially a free GUI terminal emulator that can be installed on any machine without needing Client Access licensing.

[Editor’s Note: Please be aware that IBM’s licensing deal with SEAGULL is not being extended to IBM’s new AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows (Express Client) product. Graphical Access will not be offered as part of the new package. The result is that you can still use Graphical Access if you are running Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT V3R2M0 and below. However, if you move to the new Express Client product, Graphical Access will no longer be an option, and you will need to license a commercial terminal emulation product, either IBM’s PC5250 or another commercial emulator, instead.]

As the Internet became a more predominant technology, screen refacing began migrating to HTML as the presentation layer. An HTML engine residing on the AS/400 receives HTML requests from a browser. The engine converts those requests to 5250 data stream requests and sends them to OS/400. The AS/400 processes the requests and sends the resulting 5250 data stream back to the HTML engine. The engine converts the data stream back to HTML and sends it to the Web browser that made the request.

There are several products now available that provide HTML-based screen refacing. I/Net (www.inetmi.com) sells the Webulator/400 product that provides an HTML interface into the AS/400. IBM also adopted this technology for the AS/400 when it released its own Web server, which is currently bundled with its other TCP/IP-based applications and is called Workstation Gateway (WSG).

With HTML-based screen refacing, you can quickly deploy green-screen applications to the Internet. However, this is a “quick-and-dirty” solution because, although your applications may be on the Web, they will not look and function nicely.

HTML does not provide context-sensitive help, and you cannot access function keys from your keyboard. Typically, you have to click on a button that has the “F1” caption on it.

Depending upon the vendor, a single screen will not fit completely in a browser window. The user is required to scroll down to see the entire screen. This is more of a cosmetic issue than anything else: Since all of the data is visible, it simply requires some manual intervention to see the entire screen being presented.

Another issue is that HTML-based screen refacing creates a big CPU hit on your AS/400, and it’s not hard to see why. Whenever a user enters a command, menu option, or function key, the AS/400 receives this event and converts the request to a native AS/400 5250 screen. The AS/400 processes the screen and returns the result. The result is then converted from EBCDIC 5250 to ASCII-based HTML. Because of all the conversion involved, the AS/400 performs a lot of additional work.

If you are evaluating HTML-based screen refacing, ensure that the vendor supports encryption. Without encryption, user ID and passwords flow over the Internet unencrypted and are viewable as plain text. You should avoid this major exposure at all costs.

Java-based 5250 Emulators

At the same time that the limitations of HTML-based screen refacing were becoming apparent, a new technology was emerging: Java-based 5250 emulators. Various vendors began refacing 5250 green-screens with Java. By screen refacing with Java, vendors can provide context-sensitive help, the use of function keys, and functionality that mimics 5250 terminal emulation programs.

Farabi Technology Corporation was one of the first companies to offer this technology (www.farabi.com). Its HostFront product downloads a Java applet to your browser. The applet lets you sign on to an AS/400 and use the AS/400 as if you were directly attached to it through a 5250 Terminal Emulation package.

If you want to deploy 5250 green-screen applications to Internet users, this technology has potential. It provides enough functionality to compete with other 5250 emulation packages, and there is no software to be installed on the remote user’s desktop. It is all downloaded on demand. And the added bonus is that most vendors that provide this software, including Farabi, include SSL encryption, ensuring that your data is viewed only by the user it is intended for.

VPN to the Desktop

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) is a technology that allows two locations to create a virtual network connecting each other through the Internet using TCP/IP. The virtual network replaces a dedicated connection or leased line arrangement, lowering the operating costs of your WAN arrangement.

VPN is typically set up between satellite locations and the head office. The satellite location has a small number of users and cannot justify the expense of having a leased line. So, for communications with the head office, a VPN is implemented.

With the success of this technology, there is a movement to widen the support to connect individual desktop users as well as corporate networks. Organizations want to create VPNs between their corporate network and their remote users, no matter where they are physically located. Some obvious benefits of this setup are as follows:

• All transmissions are encrypted, which keeps your data and passwords private.
• The solution works for your Client Access/400 applications, as well as any other applications you have installed. It does not limit what applications access the other end of the VPN.

• All applications run over a single conduit, which means that all applications are funneled into a single TCP/IP path and then expanded once they reach the other end of the VPN. This translates into less configuration of your firewall.

Of course, there are some downsides to a VPN implementation. All applications must be installed on the remote user’s desktop. This requires disk space and configuration

time. Typically, you must also have the users bring their systems to you to configure. But users generally do not like their home computers venturing away from home.

With this type of technology and the number of vendors that are starting to deploy it, the word incompatibility comes to mind. Standards are starting to emerge, but the desire for this technology came before the standards. With VPN, this means that every vendor does the same thing differently. Right now, there is very little cross-vendor support. So if you are going to use this technology, ensure that you are employing VPN technology from a single vendor.

Also, because this is an emerging technology, support is still limited. However, VPN will become a vital remote access technology in the future.

What I Left Out

Most vendors that deal in Internet security say that you should never place your production systems on the Internet. However, in most of the above scenarios, there are additional layers that separate your production AS/400 and the Internet.

Look at the thin client implementation. In order for your thin client users to access the AS/400, they must first have authority to the fat server. If they do not, then they are denied access to the AS/400. Therefore, you are not directly putting your AS/400 on the Internet.

Now, look at IBM’s WorkStation Gateway/400. To allow access to this application, you must place your AS/400 on the Web. I recommend that, for security purposes, you port your applications over to a new AS/400. With the AS/400 being as scalable as it is, this could simply mean backing up from your production AS/400 and restoring to your Internet-bound AS/400. From there, you would have to set up replication for any updated information between the two servers.

Whatever means you choose, keep in mind that there should be some barrier between the Internet and your production system. This provides a barrier between those deadly hackers and your AS/400.

What the Future Holds

In the first article in this series (see “Remote Access: The Stuff of Computer Lore,” MC, November 1998), I mentioned remote access as it was implemented in days gone by. Since then, I have shown the evolution of remote access and how to use modems to connect directly to an AS/400—through a dial-up server, through a fat server, and through the Internet.

VPN to the desktop and thin client over the Internet have the best possibility of withstanding the test of time. However, like COBOL and even the AS/400, modem-based communications will not be phased out any time soon. They will simply mature and become cheaper and faster.

More and more vendors are moving to support the Internet and accessing the AS/400 through it. The future has Internet written all over it, and, over time, we will be forced to support remote access more and more. Luckily, there are more tools available every year that make that job easier.

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    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.