Farabi pushes HostFront to the forefront

With demand for Web-to-host products at an all-time high, St. Laurent, Que.-based Farabi Technology Corp. is positioning the latest version of HostFront as a serious market contender.

HostFront for the Mainframe version 1.6 is one of a relatively new breed of tools that connect users to the mainframe via the Internet or intranet.

Specifically, HostFront is a collection of Windows NT 4.0 services that provide browser-based access to various mainframes or IBM Corp.’s AS/400. HostFront interfaces to desktops using downloadable ActiveX controls or Java applets.

With many enterprise year 2000 projects nearing completion, IS is increasingly concerned with connecting Web surfers with the vast stores of mainframe information, a trend kick-started by the rise of e-commerce, explained Charles Machalani, director of marketing with Farabi.

“A year ago you would have to sit down and explain to [customers] what the product does and what benefit it would provide them. Today, they’re asking about Web-to-host technology,” Machalani said.

HostFront 1.6 comes with several new features, including a persistent connection option that allows administrators to configure a mixed client-to-sever protocol of HTTP or persistent TCP/IP connections to ActiveX clients. With this, users can better manage their network resources, Machalani said.

As well, NT Domain Security has been added to HostFront. This allows administrators to create user accounts from an NT domain, so users working within the HostFront LAN won’t have to authenticate themselves twice.

“That’s an important feature for large organizations that have hundreds if not thousands of users that require access to the host system,” Machalani said.

Version 1.6 also ships with multinational language support, allowing users to connect to HostFront in various languages. Conversely, the administrator can select the user’s language, and HostFront will download the appropriate keyboard support.

Finally, display and printer emulation, as well as host publishing, is now available through a TN3270e connection. A single HostFront sever can support both the concurrent use of TN3270e and systems network architecture (SNA) connections.

Machalani said HostFront’s three-tier architecture — many of its competitors use a two-tier system — gives Farabi a leg up. With a server sitting between the mainframe and the client device, the client doesn’t become bulked up with applications that can be hosted on the server instead.

“[With the two-tier] really what you’re doing is throwing most of the functionality onto a client component. And in doing so basically you’ve downplayed the benefits of having a thin client, because you’re making a thin client as fat as a full terminal emulation program,” he said.

Lucinda Borovick, research manager with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., said Farabi is making the right moves to keep its tool competitive. “They’ve really made a tremendous amount of effort to make sure that they integrate well with Microsoft’s SNA server…that’s a wide base to go after,” Borovick said. “They added the TN3270 support which is competitive, and is certainly a must-do.”

Borovick said the worldwide market for Web-to-host tools is expected to be worth US$215 million in 1999, double that of 1998.

“[But] in order for the growth to explode, Web-to-host customers need to go after not just replacing their existing PC-to-host applications, but also bring their host apps to the extranet and the intranets. And in order for that to happen, security and directory infrastructures will be critical,” she added.

Imperial Technology Solutions, a division of Los Angeles-based Imperial Bank, uses HostFront to connect health care facilities with its contracted insurance providers to verify payments. ITS’ backend databases sitting on IBM mainframes are accessed via Microsoft SNA server, while HostFront securely transmits the information via TCP/IP to the PCs at the health care site.

Thomas Hobbs, marketing manager at ITS, said HostFront has helped reduce the number of calls placed to the insurance company.

HostFront for the Mainframe version 1.6 (www.farabi.com/html/hostfront.html) is now available, as is its counterpart, HostFront for the AS/400. Prices are calculated by the number of concurrent users on single server. The cost for 32 concurrent users – the HostFront entry level — including the server and clients is $8,100.

Farabi Technology Corp. in St. Laurent, Que., is at 1-800-565-3455.