I/O Concepts consolidates mainframe data

In the brave new world of business, consolidation is everything.

Just look at Oracle Corp. The software company’s stock has soared as of late, and not because they’ve offered any new ground-breaking services or products to add to their impressive repertoire, but because they’ve consolidated their multiple data centres around the world into two main outlets.

Bellevue, Wash.-based I/O Concepts is not following any business trend per se. But the mainframe operations producer’s MVS Consolidation Console is designed to improve a company’s overall efficiency and lower operating costs by using X-Direct and Win-Direct software and hardware to move mainframe consoles from dumb terminals to desktop workstations, thereby consolidating console sessions onto an operator’s UNIX workstation or PC.

Virgil Presta, project manager for I/O Concepts, said much of the thrust behind designing the program was addressing the needs of organizations to have complete console control over its mainframes.

“Our product can consolidate the administration of mainframe operations onto one or more workstations while permitting many operators to access multiple console sessions simultaneously,” he said. “Console consolidation allows the user to be connected to the same coax as the old dumb terminals.”

At a glance, the advanced features of the program can consolidate mainframe console sessions over a TCP/IP network; support most UNIX platforms and Windows NT/95/98; designate sessions as read/write or read only and support CUT and DFT sessions. Furthermore, the system actually allows the user to tighten security with its password protected sessions rather than compromise it. The X-Direct and Win-Direct console consolidation system displays multiple images of a single mainframe console anywhere along the TCP/IP network. Thanks to an easily-configured control panel, an administrator can monitor who is accessing a particular console. This sanctions some operators to use the interactive sessions, while others can monitor the sessions.

“We’ve increased the amount of security with several levels of security features,” Presta continued. “First of all you can define an operator as read only or read/write, plus you can define an operator’s log on password…furthermore, there’s a monitor displayed – and you can have several of them if you wish – at any workstation within the network which allows for management to oversee who’s on the network and what they’re working on.”

The console consolidation software allows console sessions to be moved from workstation to workstation with ease, and also allows for mainframe consoles to be displayed on more than one workstation at any one time.

The program operates as a client/server application. The server, running on a UNIX or Windows NT platform, starts an X-Direct or Win-Direct 3270 terminal emulation client that is attached to a Multi-Host Coax Gateway. Each gateway can contain up to eight coax cards that attach to standard IBM 3×74 controllers. Each card can support one CUT mode session or five DFT sessions for a total of 35 sessions for each gateway, but more gateways can be added to a workstation for additional sessions. In all, seven coax cards can be active on the SCSI chain with one spare card which can be ‘hot-swapped’ if one of the active cards malfunctions.

“It’s akin to how Wall Street looks at a company, consolidation brings results,” offered Darcy Fowkes, research director for the Aberdeen Group Inc. in Palo Alta, Calif. “You can consolidate terminals and an interface into one or two systems so only one or two operators have multiple access…[the program’s tools] have interesting capabilities which allows the user to collapse their system but continue to build logic applications…their tools have value for an organization.”

Of notable importance for critical applications is a failover option which allows a user to automatically switch to a backup console consolidation server if the primary server goes down.

Both X-Direct and Win-Direct 3270 software includes a powerful macro language that aids in automating many aspects of a console session. Macros can be configured to automatically enter responses to a mainframe or to log onto a session.

“Another great aspect of this system is it’s not a huge re-engineering process,” continued Fowkes. “The evolution of technology with the Internet and different paradigms of computing has put or forced information technology to add a new generation of skill sets, as a result, instead of needing 17 operators (who possess those skills), I can now use just one or two people…once an organization realizes this, it has no limitations and through consolidation, (a company) is not as dependent on talent that is hard to come by.”

Michael Gibbs, a communications engineer for Sabre Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., said the MVS Console Consolidation system allowed his company to become more efficient in its daily operations.

“We had a requirement where our remote hardware console had to be moved – along with several personnel – about 10 miles down the road,” Gibbs explained. “Those personnel required access to various test systems, and rather than run 10 miles of wire we chose the NT system offered by I/O Concepts.”

Sabre Inc. provides information services to the travel and tourism industry, primarily airline companies.

“Since installing the I/O Concepts model in March 1998, we’ve made a couple of software upgrades,” Gibbs admitted. “The system runs successfully, we’re very happy with it…it’s stable and reliable.”

The MVS Console Consolidation (www.ioconcepts.com/conscons) system’s pricing begins at US$3,600 and can go as high as US$500,000, depending on the size of the data centre. I/O Concepts can be reached at (425) 450-0650.

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