RMS Occupies a Unique Host-Access Niche

SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - The vast majority of system administrators are looking for ways to efficiently extend legacy systems and applications to the Web. The dramatic cost savings that can be achieved by making such data available to local and remote end-users is well known by now. But it can be a confusing endeavor.

Many effective Web-to-host solutions currently exist; among them are two different solutions from NetManage Inc.: Rumba Management Server (RMS) and Rumba 2000 Web-to-Host. Offering equivalent levels of host-access capabilities, deployment options, and ease of use, Rumba Management Server also provides enterprise-level scalability and security.

RMS, however, is a bit of an enigma. It provides more functionality than a typical Web-to-host solution, but less than that of a typical host publishing system. This makes comparing the tool to other market offerings somewhat difficult.

Solid architecture

Rumba offers a wealth of connectivity options, with support for mainframes, AS/400, Unix, VAX, and Hewlett-Packard systems. RMS provided us with ActiveX Pro, ActiveX Express, Host Java, and Host HTML clients. As expected, the download sizes for these clients ranged from 3.5MB for the full-featured ActiveX Pro to a mere 50KB for the HTML version. I like that RMS gives system administrators a meaningful choice of the amount of functionality that they can roll out to users.

What really makes this product appealing is its architecture. RMS operates as an application server, so it provides users with the ability to load balance and replicate requests and to host sessions across multiple RMS servers. This design also allows administrators to make use of user and group permissions that may be pre-existing on Windows NT, making setup of user-and group-level security very easy. In this regard, RMS is very similar to Attachmate's e-Vantage Host Access Server.

I was really happy to find NetManage employing "subscribed channel" technology in this product, something that is commonly found in server-based host publishing applications but not in lower-end Web-to-host solutions. A subscriber channel allows companies to deploy sessions to user groups in a way that is convenient for both end-users and administrators. This is accomplished via a channel metaphor that, in this case, resides in the left panel of the main interface. In addition to Web-to-host applications, I found that I could also serve other types of applications and documents to users via the channels.

If desired, I could even set up the server to e-mail users whenever their subscribed channel was updated.

The product was installed without any problem once all the prerequisites were made available, which included Microsoft's Data Access 2.0 components, a local or remote copy of Microsoft's SQL Server, and a JDK (Java Development Kit) 1.1-compliant browser. You should be aware, if you haven't figured it out already, that the product is tightly integrated with Microsoft technologies (the server runs only on Windows NT); non-Windows shops should probably look elsewhere for host connectivity and management.

Frames and channels

I began my testing by logging in to the server as an administrator and quickly importing users from my test domains onto the server. The interface is very easy to use. RMS uses a multiframe approach in which the subscriber channels and facilities for performing changes and updates are on the left of the screen, with the actual connection session on the right.

I experienced no problems as I used this interface to create and manage users, publish content, and even personalize individual users' views. With my work space presented in this way, I was not forced to go back to the Web server for each separate piece of work I needed.

I was disappointed to find that you must purchase the $4,000 Rumba Security Services (RSS) to enable encryption and authentication. RSS has two components: the Secure Redirector, a software gateway for routing requests through a persistent HTTP tunnel, and the Extension Security Manager, which provides centralization and simplifies configuration of Redirector clients.

Using RSS, managers can feel confident that security has been addressed for uses outside of a trusted firewall. RSS provides the necessary support for SSL, secure HTTP, and digital certificates, but we felt it would have been appropriate for these services to be included in the RMS offering as an optional installation, eliminating the additional $4,000 investment.

If NetManage should decide to lower the price of RMS, or add to it the capability of encapsulating host objects into Enterprise JavaBeans, the company's competitors -- in particular IBM and Attachmate, which lead the host publishing space -- will find the relative value of their offerings challenged more aggressively by the Rumba line.

Rumba Management Server provides more services and increased functionality over its sibling Rumba 2000 Web-to-Host, but it does so at significant cost. Initial pricing for RMS is $9,995 for 10 concurrent users vs. $1,500 for 10 Rumba 2000 Web-to-Host seats. After the first 10 users, pricing for RMS drops to $250 per concurrent license, which, according to company officials, should accommodate three to five users per license.

Shops that don't require load balancing, replication, or proxy-type security would do well to look at the less expensive Web-to-Host product. RMS would make sense for those who have not settled on an application server, who need to serve more than just Web-to-host applications to their users, or who would just like the additional power that a distributed server-based application brings. A thorough evaluation of your requirements will help you make the most cost-effective choice.

Tim Fielden (tim_fielden@infoworld.com) is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

Tale of two tools

With two offerings to choose from in the Web-to-host space, how do you decide which NetManage solution may be right for your organization's specific needs?

It all comes down to your needs for scalability and whether or not you plan to deploy applications outside the relative security of your corporate firewall.

The lower-end of the two solutions, Rumba 2000 Web-to-Host, is the only choice for customers who require flexibility in Web server support. If you want noncentralized Web server facilities or want to avoid Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) -- the only Web server supported by Rumba Management Server -- Web-to-Host is the right choice because it can be deployed on any Web server platform.

Rumba 2000 Web-to-Host supports the same emulation types as Rumba Management Server and does so quite inexpensively. Keep in mind, however, that features such as security and centralized application management are not available. If your goals are to make the transition from desktop emulation software or if you have a controlled number of intranet or extranet users to support, this solution will likely be adequate.

On the other hand, customers who are not averse to the IIS environment and who need the capabilities that an application server-based offering provides, such as clustering, load balancing, and user access management, will find that Rumba Management Server is the clear choice.

These services, although beneficial for host access applications, can also be extended to work for any Web-based application. By simply publishing a Web application's URL to the server, users will be able to make use of all the services with no change to said application. By using RMS in this way, companies create a consistent environment for administrators to perform application management tasks. Furthermore, applications that previously may have been facing scalability problems will now have new life.

Additionally, if you need to extend applications outside the firewall to, for example, a traveling sales force, frequent telecommuters, or even remote offices, you would be wise to consider RMS. It is the only solution capable of supporting authentication and encryption, albeit at an added cost.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

Rumba Management Server 3.0

Business Case: Although expensive, Rumba Management Server (RMS) can meet the needs of your organization today and in the future by offering scalability for all applications that make use of it. RMS's application-server approach provides a centralized environment from which to administer security and deploy applications.

Technology Case: Through extensive use of Java and ActiveX on the client and the server, users should have no difficulty integrating this tool into their enterprises.

Pros:

+ Uses cross-platform, industry-standard technology+ Easy-to-use interfaces+ Strong scalability potential+ Capable of serving any Web-based applicationCons:

- Limited platform support

- Requires separate product to enable security- ExpensiveCost: $9,995 (10 concurrent users); $250 per concurrent license for more than 10 usersPlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0NetManage Inc. Kirkland, Wash.; (800) 755-9255; www.rumba.com.

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