Microsoft readies Host Integration Server 2004

In a continued effort to compete with IBM Corp. and its WebSphere offerings, Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced imminent availability of Host Integration Server 2004.

The newest edition of Host Integration Server, which replaces the 2000 version, is designed to make it easier for users to link Windows systems with IBM mainframes and midrange AS/400 servers, known as iSeries servers.

“Host Integration Server 2004 is one of the only products that’s aimed at bridging a Microsoft world and a non-Microsoft world,” said Steven Martin, lead product manager for the Business Process and Integration division at Microsoft.

The latest version of Host Integration Server features a new Transaction Integrator that has been extended to cover AS/400 systems, allowing users to take mainframe and AS/400 applications and publish them as Web services using the Microsoft .Net Framework and Visual Studio .Net developer tools, Martin said.

Host Integration Server 2004 will become available worldwide on Sept. 1, Martin said.

Microsoft will, for the first time, offer Host Integration Server in both a Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition, Martin said. Standard Edition will cost US$2,499 per processor while the Enterprise Edition will run US$9,999 per processor.

The Enterprise Edition will include additional functionality, such as a Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ) to MQSeries Bridge, which integrates the MSMQ Windows and MQSeries IBM messaging platforms and enables messages to be transferred in either direction across platforms, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft has about 8,500 Host Integration Server customers, consisting mainly of large enterprises that use Host Integration Server in branch offices for access to applications and data on IBM mainframes or AS/400 machines, said Paul Larsen, group program manager for Microsoft’s Business Process and Integration division.

“We see a variety of customers, current and new, for this product, both in the U.S. and in Europe,” Larsen said. “In particular, we’re aiming Host Integration Server 2004 at the retail and financial services sectors. The product works well with point of sale (systems) in the retail space as well as with brokers and banks, especially those upgrading ATMs (automatic teller machines).”

About 30 customers participated in a “high-touch” program run by Microsoft while other customers were able to test a beta version of the product, Martin said.

One of the high-touch users was Tom Taglianetti, a platform architect with Fiserv LeMans Inc., a King of Prussia, Penn.-based company that sells software and services for the auto finance industry. “Our interest in the product is primarily for its application integration capabilities with CICS (Customer Information Control System) technology,” Taglianetti said.

Fiserv LeMans is a long-time user of older versions of Host Integration Server. The company used the server primarily to allow Microsoft distributed COM (Common Object Model) applications to communicate with CICS Cobol (Common Business Oriented Language) transactions programs, Taglianetti said. The company didn’t directly compare Microsoft’s Host Integration Server 2004 to any IBM products, he said.

One part of Host Integration Server 2004 Taglianetti singled out is the Transaction Integrator. “It provides a natural migration from COM-based programming to .NET programming with no host changes,” he said.

Additionally, Taglianetti praised the host-initiated processing feature within the Transaction Integrator. “It allows a CICS host transaction program to invoke a .Net C# class using the well-known CICS LINK command. By using this feature to refactor a legacy LU (logical unit) 6.2 interface, we’ve been able to eliminate our SNA (systems network architecture) gateway and simplify our disaster contingency requirements.”

Taglianetti said he also liked the additional capability for the host to send messages directly to its distributed application without employing a middleware gateway. “This allows us to extend the reach of our core accounting system without increasing costs and complexity to our clients,” he said.

The additional functionality of Host Integration Server 2004 was also hailed by Tim Kelly, the director of distributed technologies for Total System Services Inc. (TSYS). Based in Columbus, Ga., TSYS provides electronic payment processing and related services.

According to Kelly, TSYS has used the product since SNA Server 3.0, which along with SNA Server 4.0 preceded Host Integration Server 2000. TSYS normally runs between 2,000 to 4,000 employees off of the Host Integration Server systems with numerous application level connections.

“The new features offers great .Net integration with our applications to allow us to spoof our apps into thinking mainframe-based data is native,” Kelly said. “It is much better than IBM offerings for us, because it does not have the complexity of those products, and since we are .Net based in our applications, it is easier for us to integrate it into our products.”

Host Integration Server has been a sleeper in Microsoft’s product line, said Peter O’Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group. The product has become more interesting with the addition of such features as host initiated processing, he said.

“The additional features may not be glamorous, but they are important. For example, the ability to connect Host Integration Server systems directly to mainframes via IP (Internet Protocol) networks has a huge cost-saving potential to branch offices,” O’Kelly said.

But IBM will not simply concede its market share to Microsoft and a large number of IBM customers will continue to prefer WebSphere while many developers will still favour Java, O’Kelly said.

“We’re going to see some very healthy competition in this space. Both IBM and Microsoft have very expansive tools and systems at this point and both are doing a very effective job of providing options and integrated offerings to their customer base,” O’Kelly said. “They are going to try and leapfrog each other in terms of new product offerings. But between the two of them, they are going to continue to dominate this market.”

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