IBM AS/400 Proves Its Prowess

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - For this article, I looked at both the business and technical impacts that arose from merging our fictitious small company, Smallco, with its new parent, Bigcorp. Although Smallco had existed quite well using only an IBM Corp. Model 170 AS/400, which provided file-and-print services via OS/400 and e-mail via Lotus Domino for the AS/400, corporate edict necessitated a change in the current infrastructure to acknowledge Bigcorp's systems. The new environment would add a Windows NT Server with Domino for e-mail, a NetWare 5 server for file-and-print sharing, and a Sun Solaris server with the iPlanet Netscape Directory Server for LDAP.

Although integrating the new environment into Smallco's posed no real problems technically, especially considering the AS/400's capability of providing each of these functions natively, I did find that a considerable amount of planning and configuration time was required up front. Many companies that are acquired or consolidated have fewer hardware dependencies than the consuming company; thus there is the possibility, as happened in our case, that parts of the technology of the old (Smallco) could be better suited to the needs of the new (Bigcorp/Smallco). I found a few economies of scale, such as consolidating the e-mail and collaboration applications to the AS/400, that enabled us to offer our users better availability, scalability, and reliability while also decreasing our mail administrators' care and feeding requirements. Given AS/400's merits, I give it a score of Excellent for its interoperability.

Anyone who has ever been exposed to the AS/400 knows how easy the configuration can be, especially when using the Operations Navigator (IBM's graphical extension to an otherwise green-screen solution). For those unfamiliar with the AS/400, Operations Navigator is a graphical desktop tool -- installed with Client Access -- for performing virtually every task on the machine from the comfort of a Microsoft Windows look and feel. For this integration, I was able to use this utility almost exclusively, although due in large part to my minimal understanding of NetWare and LDAP it took me a while to figure out exactly what was required to integrate those systems with the AS/400.

As Smallco had already invested heavily in building file-and-print services on the AS/400 via the AS/400 NetServer (a standard part of the operating system), I made the decision to augment rather than replace. Although I could have taken the easy route and loaded a NetWare client on each PC for the additional file-and-print services, I instead looked at what would be required to route the print streams back and forth, as well as mapping drives directly onto the AS/400.

Integrating with the NetWare 5 server proved to be uneventful and relatively easy. Using the OS/400's Enhanced Integration for Novell NetWare (an installable feature) and the Operations Navigator, I was able to link Smallco's machine with the NetWare server and enable our users to access that file system with no client changes necessary.

Having resolved the shared file-and-print services, I moved to mail integration. My decision to use the AS/400 as the newly merged company's primary e-mail system was mostly due to the platform's capability of running up to 30 separate Domino servers on the same machine. I loved the fact that each server runs independently of the others -- this gave me the ability to perform maintenance on one server without affecting the others. The platform also shares resources -- such as processor, memory, software, and security -- which makes it an administrator's dream.

Using a combination of green screens and Operations Navigator for configuration tasks, I quickly added the new server to the environment. I found administration of the server equally simple, as I only needed to right-mouse-click on the server for a list of options. One nice feature I found when configuring the mail servers was the capability for automatic synchronization between the Domino Directory and the AS/400 System Distribution Directory; this further minimized the impact of the migration to LDAP.

The next step was to update and make use of the directory information on Bigcorp's Sun machine. From an LDAP standpoint, the AS/400 is especially well-suited for integration. Aside from its capability of making use of information stored in remote entries, the AS/400 offers free, native LDAP server support -- complete with clients and utilities.

Having proved the AS/400's connectivity, I moved to configuration tasks. Using only the Operations Navigator, I defined the AS/400 to be a replica of the master LDAP server, making integration easier than I first thought. Although I noticed that the native support on the AS/400 was only for the latest LDAP, Version 2, I saw no adverse effects from it.

This latest release of LDAP on the AS/400 supports more than 800 commonly accepted attributes, making it easy for you to avoid defining proprietary attributes that could limit your interoperability.

I found it easier to configure and administer the Domino LDAP server than the one that ships natively with the AS/400, as the former used the Notes address book. However, using the AS/400 version provides an outstanding platform for building and deploying directory-enabled applications, as well as ensuring scalability and performance.

With more than 700,000 AS/400s in operation today, it was no wonder that my testing proved that integrating this platform was relatively straightforward. I was pleased with the outcome; not only had I learned a whole lot about other companies' systems and business processes, but I also got to pick up a few new skills in the process.

Although I had few difficulties from the technical side, companies undertaking a similar venture would do well to allocate considerable time up front for education, planning, and architectural placement reviews. You never know, but you may find, as I did, that pieces of the company you worked so hard to set up might be just what a new company is looking for.

Tim Fielden is a senior analyst for the Enterprise Computing Team. Send him e-mail at tim_fielden@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT

IBM AS/400 interoperability

Business Case: Integrating the AS/400 proved straightforward and successful.

Nonetheless, I did considerable research to minimize user impact. Its easy graphical configuration and low cost of ownership makes the AS/400 a worthy platform.

Technology Case: With its native support for LDAP, NetWare, Domino, and Java, integration opportunities are ample. Furthermore, with excellent sources of technical information online and embedded within the system, even those new to the platform can successfully configure it.

Pros:

+ Native support for LDAP, NetWare, and Domino+ Easy-to-use graphical interfaces for configuration+ Large installed base for support and assistance+ Cost-effectiveCons:

- Native LDAP somewhat difficult to configure- Required necessary substantial planning up frontIBM Corp., Armonk, New York; (800) 426-3333; www.as400.ibm.com.

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