LANSA Turns aXes into IBM i Cloud Enabler
April 26, 2011 Alex Woodie
LANSA is shipping a new release of its aXes Web enablement software that’s designed to turn IBM i server environments into private and public clouds, including a platform for software as a service (SaaS). The vendor’s new aXes-Cloud software, which ships with aXes version 2.0, enables organizations to make multiple IBM i server applications available to any browser-supported device. Version 2.0 also includes new query and spool file capabilities that IBM i users may find useful.
There’s no denying the fact that “cloud” is extremely hot at the moment. Regardless of what the term actually means or whether it represents any true innovation compared to previous hosting models, cloud has taken off and embedded itself into the lexicon of the American businessperson. This has led IT vendors of all stripes to reposition their wares (or just re-write their marketing materials in some cases) to reflect a cloud basis, and you can’t really blame them.
Cloud-mania is, thankfully, more subdued in the IBM i world, where hot technology and marketing terms du jour are usually ignored, and practicality and pragmatism have always ruled the day. That is not to say resellers and service providers aren’t moving to roll out their own cloud hosting models in response to customer demands for lowering operating costs. Server outsourcing, as well as application service providing (ASP), have been a solid presence on the IBM midrange platform for more than a decade. But there is a clear trend of more IBM i workloads shifting from in-house servers to bureau-based computing centers, which is partly driven by the seemingly never-ending IBM i server consolidation cycle.
Chop Up the Cloud
This brings us to LANSA and its new cloud enablement offering. This offering is based on aXes, its screen modernization tool that converts 5250 data into HTML, which it obtained two years ago. aXes installs directly on the IBM i server, and uses a combination of XML and CGI techniques to enable on-the-fly screen conversions, without any source code changes or installation of client software.
LANSA unveiled a new aXes-Cloud component in aXes version 2.0 that, when installed on an IBM i server, turns that server into a “cloud gateway.” This cloud gateway streamlines user access to multiple IBM i servers and applications sitting on the network behind the gateway. Users log on just once, and are automatically routed to all their applications, even if the apps are located on separate physical IBM i servers. “Users don’t need to be aware that the cloud gateway exists,” LANSA says in its announcement.
The Australia-based vendor, which has its U.S. headquarters near Chicago, sees several usage scenarios for the aXes-Cloud available with version 2.0. The first is for companies that run their own multi-server IBM i environments. Such an organization could use the aXes software to create a private cloud that streamlines user access to applications running on different IBM i servers.
This private-cloud scenario also provides the benefit of enabling browser-based access to IBM i servers that are too old, or too heavily customized, to support a direct aXes installation. According to LANSA, all IBM i servers sitting behind the cloud gateway server will operate as if the aXes-Cloud software is installed on it. That’s a nifty little feat of IT magic that could prove useful.
LANSA also foresees aXes-Cloud being used by hosting providers to create public clouds for their customers. In the public cloud scenario, a customer can access any IBM i server installed behind a cloud gateway, including servers running at the hosting provider’s data center, or even those that the customer keeps in house.
Benefits of the public cloud offering are similar to those of the private cloud. This includes making IBM i applications accessible over the Web, even if the underlying application or server infrastructure is too old or too heavily customized to justify its own Web-enablement project, according to LANSA.
Sharpening Cloud Business Models
Last but not least, LANSA is positioning the aXes-Cloud software to help ISVs turn their IBM i applications into SaaS offerings. LANSA says this offering will help by creating modern Web interfaces from 5250 applications without any programming.
In February, LANSA announced that Evolution Systems has adopted aXes-Cloud to bolster its IBM i hosting business, and to help create a new platform as a service (PaaS) offering to customers who want to outsource their IBM i workloads.
Geoff Boreland, founder and managing director of Evolution Systems, says the new software and its subscription-based pricing, “facilitates the fast and simple provisioning of new customers and additional users. We now offer hosted services with on-demand scaling whether up or down.”
You can expect to read about additional IBM i business partners joining LANSA on the cloud journey. “We are currently in discussions with additional companies offering System i cloud solutions,” states LANSA vice president of sales Kevin Corcoran.
Other aXes 2.0 Bennies
aXes version 2.0 brings several other new capabilities in the areas of spool files, database queries, and programmatic automation of 5250 applications.
Top of the list is enhancements to the aXes Data Explorer, which is a Web-based aXes program that allows users to query the DB2/400 database using IBM’s SQL services. LANSA says aXes Data Explorer can handle all SQL queries, from the simple to the complex. It also lets users do things such as create and save SQL queries for later execution and export query results to spreadsheets, the vendor says.
The aXes Spool File Explorer, which enables users to access IBM i spool file output from the comfort of a Web browser, has also been enhanced. Users can view spool files on the Web browser as a PDF, HTML, text, or image file. The program also lets users create and save spool file queue searches for later use and export spool file data into a spreadsheet.
Finally, users can programmatically drive their 5250 apps with aXes-Robot, which is a brand new addition to the aXes suite. The aXes-Robot is a series of APIs that enable developers to basically simulate a user sitting in front of a 5250 session (hence the robot terminology). LANSA says this feature will be handy in several situations, including performing data entry as a batch program, using Web services to expose IBM i data that can only be accessed via 5250, or creating a connection between an ASP.NET website and a 5250 application.
LANSA is offering three flavors of the aXes-Robot API, including a .NET interface for Windows programs, a Java API that runs on IBM i and Windows, and an RPG-based API for pure IBM i environments.
aXes requires i5/OS V5R3 or later, and requires a FastCGI-enabled HTTP server such as aXes Application Server. The software supports recent releases of popular Web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. LANSA offers access to aXes-Cloud through subscription and per-user licensing options. For more information, see www.axeslive.com.