ASNA's Monarch Lets RPG Apps Sprout .NET Wings and Fly Through Windows
by Alex Woodie
Year after year, surveys point to iSeries customers being the most satisfied with their chosen server, compared to other shops and their dominant platforms. Just the same, the move from iSeries to Windows is a simple reality at many shops, for a variety of reasons. Organizations looking to migrate their RPG applications from OS/400 to Windows have new options available in Monarch 2.0, which ASNA announced last week.
While evidence shows the vast majority of OS/400 shops are satisfied with their choice of server, the move from OS/400 to Windows is not a matter of choice in many cases. Some of these organizations may find it difficult to find qualified help for the iSeries, or the high prices that IBM charges for new hardware and upgrades may just be too much for a small company to bear in the era of increasingly reliable and cheap X64 servers. For software developers, writing for Windows--the market-share leader, by a big margin--is simply a matter of survival.
Whatever the reasons companies want to go from the iSeries to Windows, ASNA isn't there to pass judgment. The company, which recently joined IBM's ISV Advantage program (but only after joining Microsoft Midrange Alliance program), has been creating development tools that make the RPG and DB2/400 development and runtime platform more Visual Studio- and SQL Server-like for many years, and its product line and business model, while continually evolving, are successful and mature.
The Four Pillars
The company is straightforward in how it can help IT departments meet their goals. Take this following quote from an ASNA demo, for example. "The issue at hand is using the right technology to meet the business needs," ASNA's narrator says. "The role of the IT department is to provide the infrastructure to enable the evolution of the business." Sound familiar? It's a similar line of calm, reasoned thinking that IBM has been known to employ in its attempts to market the iSeries as the best platform for business applications. Only, in this case, ASNA is employing critical thinking skills to shatter the status quo at OS/400 shops.
The "problem" that IT shops need to solve--that ASNA wants to help them solve--is, of course, application modernization. For many companies, green screens just don't cut it in this day and age, the company says. There are several modernization paths an OS/400 shop can take to break the 5250 addiction, including: ditching the RPG legacy and rewriting from scratch in another language; Webfacing or screenscraping a GUI on top of the 5250 interface; converting RPG into Java or C# using a code converter; and emulating OS/400 on Windows, Unix, or Linux (a corner of the market pretty much owned by California Software since the downfall of CrossWorks a couple of years ago).
The problem with each of these paths, ASNA says, is none of them support the "four pillars," namely retaining the value inherent in: people with specific knowledge of an application; the application's logic; the business processes surrounding that logic; and the actual data manipulated by that logic. ASNA says its Monarch toolset is the only migration path that can maintain each of those four pillars, and provide an upgrade path through a service oriented architecture (SOA).
Monarch 2.0 Targets Printing
Monarch is a collection of tools designed to help OS/400 shops with all aspects of migrating RPG applications to Windows. The suite includes Monarch Cocoon, a Windows-based code analysis tool; Monarch Gameplan, which is used to create a detailed migration strategy; and a slew of individual code converters for RPG programs, display files, CL programs, and the like. The software was initially launched last October (see "ASNA Launches Monarch for RPG-to-.NET Migration").
In the Monarch scheme of things, RPG code gets converted into Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL)--which is then maintainable via Microsoft Visual Studio and ASNA's Visual RPG (AVR) plug-ins--while DDS-based greenscreen interfaces get transformed into ASP.NET interfaces. Users are given the choice of maintaining data in DB2/400 or moving it to Windows' native database, SQL Server, with assistance from ASNA's DataGate product.
With this release, ASNA says it is making it even easier for companies with RPG applications to take the plunge into the world of .NET and service oriented architectures through new features such as better support for printer files, batch applications, DDS keywords, CL commands, and RPG constructs.
Enhancing Monarch's printing support was the major thrust behind the second release of the product, ASNA says. With this release, Monarch gains two new migration agents, the Print File Agent and the Printer O-Spec Agent, the development of which were based on the new DataGate print files for .NET developed by ASNA. The Print File Agent converts DDS print files to DataGate print files, while the Printer O-Spec Agent converts RPG printer O-specs to DataGate print files. Monarch's RPG migration agent was also redesigned to handle the EXCPT command driving the O-Spec printing process. Analysis of O-specs is also enhanced with a new printer O-Spec viewer, the company says.
Monarch 2.0 also enables users to create better-looking documents, and print them on low-cost printers. A new DataGate print designer allows users to add images, line art, and utilize more attractive fonts with their converted reports and documents. And because these migrated documents use native .NET print files, users can print them out on inexpensive printers.
Another major enhancement with Monarch 2.0 is the capability to migrate batch files. The first release of the product concentrated on migrating interactive applications, ASNA says. Enhancements in the Gameplan component of Monarch 2.0 enable users to segment their applications in new ways, including as console (or batch) applications, as class libraries (either an interactive ASP.NET DLL or as a DLL with no display files), and the migration of print files and message files.
The Cocoon analysis tool has also been enhanced with a new layout that should make it easier for developers to navigate galleries of objects and gameplans. Users can also segment and explore their tasks by categories, including the "problems," "unsupported features," and "exceptions" categories. Lastly, Cocoon gains a new menu that gives users quick access to reports on the state of their migration project.
ASNA has also bolstered Monarch's support for DDS keywords, CL commands, and RPG constructs, increasing the likelihood of a smooth migration from OS/400 to Windows. The new DDS keywords supported are DSPATR(PC), MSGID, WINDOW, and WDWTITLE. The new CL commands supported are ADDLIBLE, CLRMBR, DCLFILE, INZMBR, OVRDBF, RCVF, RMVLIBLE, and SNDF. The new RPG constructs supported are DclPrinterFile, EXCPT, Inline Key List, OVERLAY keyword on DS Fields, *ALL'xx', and printer O-Specs, as mentioned earlier.
Monarch is paying dividends at several companies, including AiM Software, a West Midlands, England, developer of ERP applications for midsize companies. Jon Dean, the company's technical director, says Monarch is converting about 95 percent of the company's RPG code on the first go-around. "We only needed some minor amendments to the AiM Application suite [to] remove some redundant features and enhance the appearance of the final product, but it all worked out great," he says. "We were also highly impressed with the presentation and readability of the migrated source code, which enabled our development staff to confidently support the AiM .NET product."
Another software developer, Infocon, is also reporting good results with Monarch. "We transformed one of our legacy applications to the .NET platform in a matter of weeks," says Aimee Farabaugh, director of software development at the Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, developer of applications for municipalities. "That is incredible given the fact that the application contains well over 100,000 lines of code and complex databases. . . .What Monarch did for us was rather amazing."