IBM Weaves Together HATS and WebFacing Tools
February 6, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
While the World Wide Web interface to the Internet has been a wonderful thing for consumers and corporate end users alike, the radically different way of doing interfaces compared to traditional host machines such as OS/400, VMS, and mainframe systems has, to put it bluntly, caused a tremendous amount of trouble in the past decade. And while IBM and its partners have skinned this cat in what seems like a zillion clever ways, making RPG and COBOL applications speak Web is still a big hassle.
This is one of the reasons that with i5/OS V5R4, IBM has integrated the functionality of its WebFacing features for WebSphere Development Studio and its Host Access Transformation Services, two unique ways that IBM has created to modernize OS/400 applications. As we reported last fall, there were plenty of rumors running around that indicated that Big Blue might do this, so the announcement is not exactly a surprise. But the details of how this integration has been accomplished with the new WebSphere Development Studio Client WebFacing Development Tool with HATS Technology, or WDHT, are clever and not exactly what people might have been expecting.
Before I get into that, I feel the need to vent a little about product naming conventions. Yes, Virginia, WDHT is actually a nested acronym, and yes, IBM’s calling it WDHT violates the rules of acronym making. Technically, the product should be called WDSC[WFDTW(HATS)T] or something like that. Here’s my question: What would be wrong with calling the whole thing i5/WEB, making it clear that it was a middleware layer that rode on top of i5/OS? You could even have WEB mean something, like Web-Enablement Builder, or pick a B-word of your choice (I did, but I can’t print it.). The IT industry’s naming conventions are often a big barrier to adoption since the names all sound the same, are not internally consistent, and just keep getting meaningless brands slapped on them. Someday, when I am running IBM–but that’s a different story. Suffice it to say: i5/OS equals the operating system; i5/DEV is for development; i5/WEB is the Web extension technology; i5/APP is the complete set of application servers that the machine supports, including 5250, WebSphere, Tomcat, and such; i5/DB is the DB2/400 relational database; i5/NET is the network stack, which includes TCP/IP and SNA stuff; i5/DBA would be database administration tools. And so on. Make it simple. The genius of the System/38 and the AS/400 was to mask complexity. The mask is off with the iSeries and the i5. And it is ugly. Please, put the mask back on.
Now, back to WebFacing and HATS and how IBM has integrated them to make application development more sensible on the OS/400 platform. First of all, and I know this might be hard to believe, the Four Hundred Gurus at IT Jungle tell me that an awful lot of companies have not decided as yet how to Web-enable their applications, which is why there is such a vibrant ecosystem of tools to do so.
In May 2001, IBM rolled out the WebFacing features of its WebSphere Development Studio development tool to take RPG and COBOL applications to the Web. WebFacing, says IBM, is more malleable than earlier generations of screen-scraping tools. WebFacing is important because it helps drive the adoption of WDSC and WDS and does not have the 5250 tax associated with it. In other words, when you WebFace an existing RPG program, you can run it on a Standard Edition machine instead of an Enterprise Edition machine. This can save customers some big bucks. WebFacing works by creating a Web or portal interface to a 5250 application through a development time conversion using display file (DDS) source code, and it requires conversion when the source code is modified. HATS, by contrast, is a dynamic runtime conversion tool that converts 5250 data streams into a Web-based interface at program execution; it requires conversion when source code modifications affect screen customization.
While WebFacing is popular–IBM claims it has dominant market share among Web enablement tools in the iSeries market–WebFacing has its limits. And one of them is that system programs that cannot be WebFaced. The other is that it is very difficult to WebFace an entire suite all at once–customers have to do it gradually, particularly if they are small OS/400 shops. So IBM has thought of a clever way around this.
Simply put, it has put the HATS Toolkit V6.0.4 inside WDSC, and that toolkit includes a runtime environment that is integrated with WebFacing such that if an RPG or COBOL green screen is encountered anywhere in a running application–meaning that it has not been run through the WebFacing tool yet–HATS will automatically convert that screen on the fly to a graphical, Web-enabled screen. The generated screen created through the WebFacing extensions to the HATS runtime will inherit the browser styles used in the WebFacing, which is clever. If this works right, you won’t be able to tell which parts of applications are generated by either WebFacing or HATS. And, because IBM knows that companies are sensitive to the pricing of interactive processing capacity, IBM is dropping the requirement that HATS consume 5250 capacity when this runtime is used. (If you want to run regular HATS to Web-enable your application, those charges still apply, I believe.)
You do have to deploy WDHT, the runtime tool, on the development and production machines where the Webified applications are created and running. You do not need to suddenly buy WDHT if you plan to just use WebFacing, by the way, but IBM warns that in future releases of the WebFacing Tool, all deployments will require the purchase of WDHT. IBM is dropping the 5250 tax, but it has to make up the money somewhere, and this combo functionality is worth something. WDHT, which has the product number 5724-N52, has a per-core fee that rises with the normal OS/400 software tiers. It costs $5,000 per core on a P05 machine, $10,000 per core on a P10 system, $12,000 on a P20 system, and $18,000 on a P30 through P60 box. The fact that the HATS runtime does not require i5/OS Enterprise Edition more than offsets this cost.
The WDHT functionality will be available electronically on March 3; the version on CD media with documentation will be available on March 10.