Wireless world would be useless without conception of middleware

If there were an award for the most important technological concept of the past 20 years, to my mind there would be no question of the winning conception: no other technology comes close to middleware.

Wireless would be useless without it. Can you imagine building or rewriting a database that is entirely separate from your company’s current system just so that company employees could get at corporate data?

IBM Corp. last month announced two pieces of middleware for wireless access to, and execution on, the back end.

The first is iSeries Management Central. iSeries is the new name for IBM’s AS/400 server line, which probably can be found in some of the biggest and some of the newest corporations, from Krispy Kreme to Colgate-Palmolive.

Management Central is a piece of middleware that will allow an operator, or whoever runs the day-to-day operations in a machine room, to access and monitor the performance of the system and applications from a cell phone or a Palm device. But it does more than monitor. It can execute commands as well, including starting and restarting jobs. Basically, it is management console software on a handheld.

“If you’re running payroll processing, you can see if it has finished processing; or if there was a problem, you can restart it,” said Ian Jarman, iSeries product manager in Rochester, Minn.

The middleware will ship this month with the next revision of the iSeries and will be part of the OSes bundled with the iSeries, including OS/400 and AIX.

The other neat piece of middleware coming out of IBM is XML DB2 Extender. This component is now in trial stage at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

The middleware allows you to convert data from a DB2 database into XML and render it to a wireless device. As all good middleware should, it becomes the critical link to a business application.

The Venetian has its room inventory, check-in, and guest database on iSeries. If you’ve ever gone to Las Vegas for one of the big shows such as Comdex, you know the nightmare extends beyond waiting a half hour or more in line for a cab at the airport. If your timing is right when you finally arrive at the hotel, you will be faced with yet another line at check-in.

Well, if the pilot program at the Venetian works out, next time you arrive, a roving check-in agent will spot you as you come through the doors at any one of the half-dozen entrances to the hotel and check you in right there. It’s like mobilizing the old “green screen” from the front desk.

The check-in agents will carry a Symbol Technologies-modified Palm device with attached credit card swiper and keymaker. Ethernet 802.11b access points will be placed around the hotel to link with the database.

Although the primary goal is most likely better customer relationship management, I see a secondary goal targeted mainly at those high rollers: the sooner they get checked in, the sooner they start gambling. A high roller can lose a lot of bucks in the first 15 minutes. And for those who are really eager to lose their money, the Venetian staff will check guests in while they’re at the table.

Although Jarman couldn’t talk about the cost of the hardware, he said the software piece cost between US$70,000 and US$100,000. The project took about two months; and Lansa, a Chicago-based integrator and IBM partner, gets credit for the creation and installation of the project.

SAP practices what it preaches

Using a Compaq iPaq Pocket PC, a Sierra Wireless air card modem, a dedicated T1 line, dedicated IP addresses and AT&T and Verizon as service providers, SAP AG is enabling its 345-person field sales force with a single sign-on to its R3 sales automation applications.

Except for those account executives who need to make presentations, the need to lug around a notebook just diminished. Later this year when SAP goes to the packet-based network GPRS (general packet radio service) offered by AT&T, e-mail syncing will be possible as well, according to Tom DelMonte, manager of the Internal Business Consulting department at SAP in New Town Square, Penn.

I asked DelMonte if he thought notebooks would disappear when that happens.

“Some of the guys are already using Stowaway keyboards on the iPaq, and some account executives are using Transcriber – a Microsoft application trained to read your own handwriting – instead of notebooks,” DelMonte said.

Technology will soon be available so that the security can fit on the handheld. For now, according to DelMonte, SAP has created a minifirewall with one IP address assigned to each air card. Sign-on software will soon be small enough to reside on the device. “My one password will work on my laptop and handheld,” DelMonte said.

Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld (U.S.)’s news department. He can be reached at ephraim_schwartz@infoworld.com.