eSP Creates New Product Category: ‘Terminal Session Management’
January 11, 2005 Alex Woodie
When eBusiness Solution Pros introduced its Stay-Linked emulator two years ago, the company primarily targeted warehouses and retail operations that needed terminal emulators to connected wireless barcode scanners with iSeries servers. With the explosive growth of wireless “Wi-Fi” 802.11 networks, eSP has identified a need for a new class of product that manages the range of devices that organizations want to turn into mobile host terminals. It has dubbed this new class of product “terminal session management.”
There are many terminal emulators for barcode scanners on the market, and Stay-Linked is not unique in this respect. But what is unique about Stay-Linked is the way it establishes a 5250, 3270, or VT session on a Windows, Palm, or Linux handheld.
Instead of running a full emulator on the scanner, the product actually runs the emulator for each device from the server itself, right next to the Telnet server program. The product then uses a very small thin client on the mobile device, which now basically functions as an I/O-only device, in a manner similar to Citrix, eSP officials says. Also, instead of communicating with the device using TCP/IP, which eSP says is inherently unreliable in radio frequency (RF) environments, the company developed its own proprietary protocol that’s based on UDP/IP and uses “micropacket” technology to provide good quality of service in a bandwidth-constrained environment.
This approach to RF connectivity provides benefits in the form of session persistency, visibility, and control, says Mike Pagani, eSP’s marketing director. “Our Administrator GUI lets you see any sessions running on the host systems, from any PC,” he says. “Mobile devices don’t have to be the black hole for the help desk anymore.”
Stay-Linked has always provided visibility of active session, and when Stay-Linked 6.1 was introduced last year, eSP added the capability for an administrator or a help desk technician to take over a session. Session take-over proved popular when bad things happened to good scanners, says Mark McGary, Stay-Linked lead developer and eSP vice president of research and technology. “When a forklift drives over a gun, normally it would be lost. You would have to log on and try to repair the data,” he says. “Now you can take over the session from the Stay-Linked Administrator, and take off from there or gracefully exit.”
Session take-over has been taken up a notch with Stay-Linked 6.2, which eSP announced last week. The new collaborative session capability in Version 6.2 allows help desk personnel to see the actual screen of a Stay-Linked device, and to enter commands. Company officials say this new feature will prove beneficial in training and session-recovery.
This new collaborative capability also plays into eSP’s idea of a new class of “terminal session management” products. The growth of wireless access and devices has created new dilemmas for organizations that want to use this new technology for sales force automation and CRM, Pagani says.
“We’ve addressed the persistence issue, but simultaneously we have this wireless availability. It’s becoming more pervasive, and devices are becoming more friendly and more cost-effective,” he says. “That has opened the door, and we feel that terminal session management is the missing piece moving forward.”
For example, say a traveling sales rep at a Wi-Fi-enabled Starbuck’s wants to check on inventory while simultaneously placing an order and sipping a venti double nonfat latte. With Stay-Linked’s new collaborative capability, the salesman and somebody back at the office can work from the same screen to ensure the order gets placed and processed promptly.
“We believe session sharing will provide visible control and security for other applications to be distributed in this fashion,” Pagani says. “That’s been the hold up, because organizations don’t want to give their sales force access to 5250, because they can’t see it. It creates a support problem.”
The greater reliance on 802.11 WLANs in office environments is also creating an opportunity for Stay-Linked, Pagani says. “Things happen, like maybe their access point is located just below a microwave oven on the floor above,” and that interferes with network access, he says. “It introduces a whole new set of issues that you don’t have with that wire.”
These issues, of course, can be dealt with through a “terminal session management” product. Currently, eSP is the only vendor selling a terminal session management product. “We though it was important to stick a flag in the sand,” Pagani says. The company plans to build on its terminal session management plans and its overall “Client2Host” architecture throughout 2005.
In addition to the new collaborative feature in Stay-Linked 6.2, the new version can tell the administrator who was the last person to use the gun, based on the user ID. It also includes the capability to support alternate key maps, which can allow administrators to support barcode scanners for which eSP hasn’t built support into the product yet.
Since all communication goes through UDP, eSP also needed a way to do file transfers, since it could no longer use TFPT, which is inherently not secure, according to McGary. “We always supported sending messages. Now we support sending commands,” he says. “You can see what on the C drive of the Telzon device by typing dir.txt. It’s new in Version 6.2, and we’re doing it through a safe, secure, and high-performance protocol.”
Since it launched Stay-Linked about two years ago, about 100 organizations have adopted the product, including a large retail operation in the sporting goods business that uses the AS/400. In 2004, Stay-Linked signed a deal with Manhattan Associates to sell a version of Stay-Linked that’s pre-integrated with the industry’s leading WMS.
Also in 2004, the company introduced its new StarterPack bundle, which offers the Stay-Linked Administrator GUI, the Telnet server, and five concurrent user licenses for $1,295. Additional client licenses are $195 each, and a dual-session license (which allows one device to have sessions open with two different servers, or with two sessions on the same server) is $295. More information is available at www.stay-linked.com.