Farabi Bolsters Host Access Wares with HostFront 4.0
by Alex Woodie
Farabi Technology last week announced HostFront Enterprise Server 4.0, a new version of its host access and integration technology for connecting to OS/400, mainframe, and Unix servers. This version introduces fairly significant changes to the product's packaging, simplified set-up and deployment, easier Web services generation, a new management console, and the introduction of high-end features, such as clustering.
Before last week's announcement, Farabi offered three platform-centric versions of HostFront, including HostFront for AS/400, HostFront for Mainframe, and HostFront for Unix. With HostFront Enterprise Server 4.0, the company has done some consolidation and now enables users to access and build integrations to the full range of OS/400, OS/390, and Unix applications from a single implementation of HostFront running on a Windows server.
In addition to consolidating its products by operating system, it has also split its offerings by functionality. Farabi offers a more basic product, called HostFront Access Server, that provides host access via downloadable applets. Customers that want to integrate other applications with their host applications using Web services technologies--not merely access them through traditional means--can use the HostFront Enterprise Server.
Building Web services from host applications is easier with HostFront Enterprise Server 4.0, the company says. Previously, Farabi offered plug-ins and libraries that let Visual Studio programmers develop Web services from host applications. That process has been greatly automated with the introduction of the HostFront Legacy Integrator, or HFLI.
"Now with this tool, you just do the navigation on the greenscreen, and the code will be automatically generated for you. You don't have to write code," says Saad Kanawati the HostFront product manager at Farabi.
The HFLI component only provides screen navigation and automatic generation of COM and .NET components--a process that Farabi has dubbed Screen Logic Integration (SLI)--for OS/400 and mainframe applications; Unix applications are not yet supported with the SLI feature, although Web services can still be generated from them.
Farabi sees the potential for using HostFront Enterprise Server to integrate host data with a range of Web and Windows applications, including portals, point of sales systems, interactive voice response systems or, and mobile devices in real time. The company says that, with the combination of its new SLI capability and Microsoft's Host Integration Server 2004, it has all aspects of legacy integration covered.
HostFront also gains support for clustering with this release. Previously, organizations would need to install and maintain a separate HostFront server for each 1,000 users. With this release, administrators can centrally monitor and manage all of their HostFront servers from a central location, using the new management console, called the HostFront Enterprise Manager (HFEM). HostFront Enterprise Server still tops out at 1,024 sessions per server, but these servers can now be linked and provide session load-balancing and failover capabilities to each other that previously were not there.
The new HFEM management console brings other benefits to HostFront 4.0. Depending on a manager's role, he is provided with different level of control over the HostFront environment through the management console. System administrators are provided with full access to the product's functions, while the second-tier setting is designed for managers and tech support personnel who need to do things such as reset forgotten passwords. At the bottom of the functionality spectrum is a read-only mode designed to provide personnel with the capability to monitor such things as who is logged on, and who is not.
Because HFEM is based on a full implementation of the SQL Server database, it can be accessed from anywhere, and is not tied to the HostFront server, Kanawati says. Other benefits of the new SQL Server integration include centralized backup of setup files and configuration profiles, and generally higher availability and redundancy, he says. There is also a new Pool Explorer component that provides administrators with tracing capabilities, among other capabilities; support for PDF printing; and enhanced encryption of Telnet sessions.
HostFront 4.0 also introduced support for Novell's iChain authentication mechanism. Previously, the software relied on Microsoft Active Directory services for user authentication, but Farabi had some customers who required Novell iChain support, so the company built that feature into the product. A new XML client that lets Unix, Linux, and Macintosh users connect to HostFront servers and gain access to host applications has also been added. HostFront traditionally relies upon an ActiveX component, but because these platforms can't run that piece of Windows-centric code, Farabi decided to design a more platform-agnostic access component.
Farabi is concentrating on Microsoft Windows, Visual Studio, and the .NET Framework with this release, and is no longer supporting the generation of Java components. The company had introduced support for Java with HostFront 3.0, which was introduced about three years ago (see "Farabi Goes Java with Latest Release of HostFront").
However, there was little demand for Java coding techniques with HostFront, and supporting the two major development camps didn't make sense from a financial standpoint, Kanawati says. "We are concentrating on Microsoft with this release," he says, adding that HostFront applications can still interoperate with Java applications. . "You can call [HostFront applications] from a Java application without any problem."
HostFront Enterprise Server 4.0 is available now. Pricing is based on concurrent user sessions, and ranges from about $1,500 to $100,000. For more information, visit www.farabi.com.