Inventu Streamlines IBM i-to-SharePoint Connections
November 9, 2010 Alex Woodie
Inventu launched a new product last month aimed at making it easier for developers to integrate IBM i data and applications into Microsoft SharePoint portals. Flynet Viewer 2010, along with Inventu’s SharePoint Host Access Web Part component, provide several ways for hooking into 5250, 3270, and VT green screens and making the host data and workflows accessible from SharePoint portals, lists, and other assets.
With the launch of SharePoint 2010 earlier this year, Microsoft set out to change how the product is perceived–and, indeed, used–by customers. Whereas earlier releases of SharePoint focused primarily on file sharing, Microsoft intends SharePoint 2010 to become an enterprise platform for collecting and distributing information from many sources, and a place where users will collaborate. To that end, Microsoft built more integration, social networking, document management, and business intelligence capabilities into the 2010 release, which shipped in May.
Microsoft’s attempt to turn SharePoint into an information hub for corporate information and collaboration brings us to Inventu, a Marblehead, Massachusetts, company that has been linking the Microsoft world to IBM mainframe and midrange hosts for over a decade with two products, Flynet Viewer and Screensurfer.
Flynet Viewer is a versatile product aimed at helping Microsoft Visual Studio developers tap into host systems. The software works as a high-level script editor–a macro engine, of sorts–that allows developers to re-use host application data and processes in Microsoft-based applications (such as SharePoint). This is done by automatically “driving” the green-screen session with the combination of scripting and field-mapping functionality. Flynet Viewer also includes a .NET-based terminal emulator for accessing the green screens directly, and can expose host functionality through Web services protocols. Screensurfer, meanwhile, is a real-time, green-screen-to-HTML conversion program that also provides database access via ODBC.
With Flynet Viewer 2010, Inventu is providing some new functionality in the area of integrating host applications with the unique constructs of SharePoint, which is seeing widespread adoption in companies of all sizes.
The core SharePoint integration methods remain unchanged. For example, Flynet could be used to grab certain fields from a green screen, bring them into a front-line SharePoint app, and automatically complete a SharePoint form. Alternatively, the terminal emulation portion of the product could be used to provide access to green screens from within SharePoint. Or, they could use the screen scraping component of Flynet to convert green screens to ASP.NET-based Web pages on the fly.
The new Web Part makes generating custom SharePoint-to-host integration points much easier, according to a July Inventu white paper, titled “An Information Technology Perspective SharePoint and Legacy Screen-Based Applications,” which is accessible at www.inventu.com/downloads/Flynet%20SharePoint%20Technical%20Brief.pdf (PDF).
Developers can mix and match the new Web Part with existing features, such as the capability to connect SharePoint list items to screen actions (supported with the Flynet terminal emulator or green screens that have been dynamically turned into ASP.NET Web pages). For example, this capability could be used to enable a worker to automatically gain access to a host screens (either green screen or converted) by clicking on a row in SharePoint. This provides fast access to host information from SharePoint, without the need to change screens or open a terminal emulation session.
Bill Thorne, the company’s president and chief software architect, sees benefits beyond emulation. “For example, an insurance claim on a mainframe can pull-up associated images managed in SharePoint. And right out of the box, you get a thin-client, full-functioning emulator for improved look and feel,” he says.