BCD Widens Modernization Options with ‘Presto’
April 2, 2008 Dan Burger
Application modernization for IBM System i users does not have to be a three-ring circus. There’s no need for lion tamers, trapeze artists, jugglers, and clowns. Keeping it simple is often the best way to go. When moving existing applications to the Web is exactly what’s needed, there’s no reason to make things more complicated than that. And that’s where Business Computer Design (BCD) is rolling toward with the introduction of WebSmart Presto and the ClearPath Modernization Suite at COMMON conference in Nashville, Tennessee this week.
It’s clear to anyone faced with a Web enablement project that rewriting apps is not a realistic option. It’s too time-intensive and expensive. Like everything else on your plate, this project comes with an “I need it yesterday” type of deadline and a budget that wouldn’t even pay for a round of drinks after work.
BCD has plenty of experience building browser-based interfaces over RPG and COBOL applications. Its customers have been using the WebSmart IDE to create new applications for years. The focus has been on customizing the user interface and extending screens by adding functionality.
Advanced functionality is the direction some companies want to go as they look toward building composite applications and mixing the best of what they have with the direction they want to go. There are efficiencies and a host of strategic business reasons for modernizing applications with that in mind. However, in talking with many System i users, the BCD staff found that some organizations weren’t ready for that type of commitment of time and money. A better fit for these companies was one that deployed 5250 applications to the Web with no changes to RPG, COBOL, or DDS source code and no need to recompile programs. Without the need to recompile programs, green screen applications can be instantly Web enabled.
It’s also important to note that an application modernization project seldom encompasses anything close to all the RPG and COBOL code that make up the entire business application portfolio for any given company. These projects begin with the most often used programs and those with the highest level of criticality. Taking these programs to the Web could be the goal of a modernization program or it could be the first step in a long-range modernization goal.
Duncan Kenzie, CTO of BCD’s software development group, says his experience tells him that companies are not going to devote the resources and the effort required to completely rewrite applications in RPG CGI, Java, or PHP. WebSmart, by the way, is designed to support all those languages. “In most cases, people aren’t looking to make a drastic change to their applications. These applications have been in production for years, and their users are comfortable with them. They do, however, want improvements like browser-based access and UI changes including drop-down boxes, images, Google Maps, calendars, and the ability to navigate through applications using a mouse instead of a keyboard.”
With this in mind, the Web enablement of green-screen applications and menus can be accomplished within the confines of an extremely compact deadline requirement. With a preconfigured Apache Web server and an IP address, BCD product experts say Presto users can have 5250 screens dynamically presented as Web pages in less than an hour. And because this process is handled in batch mode, there is no 5250 OLTP as a cost factor to consider. For the bean counters, OLTP can be an unaccounted for surprise. Presto avoids it. And, don’t forget to tell those budget watchers that the Apache Web server is built in to the System i. That means no additional Web server costs. It might also make them happy to know there is no PC client necessary.
The rap sheet on bringing green-screen apps to the Web is that it is a dead end street. In some cases it is. If there is no possibility of adding functionality in the future and therefore a rewrite is the only option when that day eventually comes, then that has to be taken into account. Getting to the Web by the quickest and easiest methods can be a double-edged sword. Not planning for the eventuality of one day wanting to build composite applications might be a bit short-sighted.
BCD designed Presto to avoid the dead-end dilemma by allowing applications to be enhanced whenever and however the organization chooses to do that within the realm of the WebSmart IDE. The IDE is a Windows-based environment that allows control and access to the client-side code. In other words, it makes possible the integration of handy features such as pop-up calendars, drop-down boxes, and images.
Other features include the capability to change the look and feel of a 5250 screen by using what BCD refers to as “skins.” (There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I guess.) Presto also provides full access to the HTML of the Web-enabled screens and through the use of AJAX it can provide Web services for programmers that are designing with service oriented architecture (SOA) in mind.
To make sure that Presto is not pigeon-holed as a one-and-done solution, the folks at BCD point out that it can be combined with WebSmart PHP and WebSmart ILE to create multi-platform Web apps. It also integrates with BCD’s Nexus Portal so that application and document security can be better controlled among trading partners, clients, and during internal usage. It also integrates with BCD’s query tool and document distribution products.
Presto also has a seat on the ClearPath Modernization Suite, which was BCD’s other major announcement at COMMON, and which rolls several BCD offerings into one suite. ClearPath includes WebSmart PHP and WebSmart PHP, Presto, Nexus Portal, Clover Query, SmartCharts, and Catapult.
Including all the products that will be used in a modernization project better sense that selling piece-meal solutions, according to Eric Figura, BCD’s director of sales and marketing. “Modernizing with solutions that communicate with each other and dealing with one single vendor who assures seamless support for your customized solution makes this a very smart choice,” he states in a press release. “It’s a choice that will save organizations significant time and money.”
BCD has several pricing plans for Presto (which doesn’t ship until June) and ClearPath, including concurrent user pricing, tier group pricing with concurrent user seats, and an unlimited user pricing model. More information on ClearPath and Presto can be found at www.bcdsoftware.com/clearpath.
Editor’s Note. This story has been corrected. WebSmart does not support .NET, as originally stated. IT Jungle regrets the error.