GXS Shares Development Plans for IBM i Customers
October 11, 2011 Alex Woodie
It’s been nearly two years since GXS acquired Inovis, which had inherited the Harbinger and Peregrine brands that were so familiar to AS/400 shops of old. GXS still has about 2,000 EDI customers running on today’s IBM i platform, and while they represent just a small part of GXS’ $420 million business, the company has big plans for helping its IBM i customers take advantage of GXS’ cloud services, as well as its managed file transfer (MFT) capabilities.
GXS’ IBM i-based EDI translator, called TrustedLink IBM i edition (TLi), is an elder statesman in the software world, with 25 years of service under its belt. Over that time, the software has processed billions of transactions among tens of thousands of manufactures, distributors, and retailers running the most popular IBM i-based ERP, WMS, and MMS applications. Most of those transactions went over slow dial-up value added network (VAN) lines.
The RPG-based product has kept up with technological change, without compromising its primary duty, says Murray Brook, the former Inovis TLi product manager who today is the manager for GXS’ entire product portfolio. “The product is very much alive and well, and has a strong roadmap going forward,” Brook says. “We’re always looking to push the boundaries of the capabilities of that piece of software, while remaining core to its particular content.”
GXS aims to ship a new release of TLi every nine to 12 months. It delivered a release earlier this year, and the next release, TLi version 6.3.2, is expected in the June 2012 timeframe. Most of the new features are the result of customer requests, and are typically evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Localization of TLi interfaces and validation in high availability environments are two areas the TLi development team has been working on. In terms of localization, GXS is targeting double byte character set (DBCS) languages such as Japanese (expected before the end of the year) and Chinese, in addition to expansion into French and German. On the HA front, GXS recently worked with its partner IBM to showcase TLi running in a high availability setup, using PowerHA SystemMirror, GeoMirror for IBM i, and a DS8000 array using Copy Services (you can download an info sheet on the test at http://www-304.ibm.com/partnerworld/wps/servlet/ContentHandler/stg_ast_sys_gxs_on_power7).
To the Cloud!
Perhaps more exciting for GXS’ IBM i customers is the work its doing with BizManager/400, which is the IBM i version of the B2B gateway that Inovis acquired from IPNet Solutions nearly 10 years ago. The BizManager product family (there is a non-IBM i version, too) handles all types of data formats and communication protocols, ranging from EDI and flat files to AS2 and ebXML.
BizManager/400 is critical for TLi for one important reason: it communicates with the outside world for TLi. Due to the sensitivity of the data and its proximity to ERP systems, TLi is typically installed behind a company’s last firewall, whereas BizManager/400 sits in the DMZ.
BizManager/400 offers MFT capabilities natively on the IBM i server, a function that GXS hasn’t highlighted much in its product marketing although it has a lot of opportunity, Brook says. But here’s the big money-maker in the GXS playbook: Using BizManager/400 to hook up TLi customers and applications to the GXS Trading Grid.
The Trading Grid is a cloud-based, service oriented architecture (SOA)-enabled data integration platform, and is quite frankly the main focus at GXS these days. The Trading Grid, which runs Microsoft‘s Azure cloud infrastructure platform, can execute many types of B2B transactions. It can function as a hosted EDI product and take transactions directly out of, say, a JD Edwards ERP system. It can serve as an integration broker, and manage procure-to-pay transactions. It can provide data quality management and execute custom business rules. And it can serve as a repository for unstructured content, such as revenue reports and treasury reports for banks.
“We very much believe integration belongs in the cloud,” GXS spokesman Doug Kern says. The Trading Grid processes about 10 billion transactions involving more than 400,000 customers. It represents a $250 million investment for GXS and has been in development since 2004.
Getting TLi customers hooked up to the Grid is one of Brook’s main goals. “We are looking to expand the capabilities of our software portfolio on System i where it makes sense, but the reality is in a number of cases, I see the software group as enablers to the GXS Trading Grid cloud services,” Brook says.
TLi customers are able to consume any service offered within the GXS Trading Grid cloud, Brook says. “I can take information very fluently from the System i application, translate it to any format we need, and move it though the wide range of services that are available within the GXS Trading Grid, as a cloud service, and bring it back to the software behind the firewall for the customer,” he says. “So even though it’s not native and sitting on that System i application, it really is enabling System i-based customers running System i-based software to take advantage of all the different services we provide in the cloud.”
In the near future, TLi and BizManager/400 customers will be able to take advantage of GXS’ new Internet-based social media software, called RollStream. RollStream, which GXS acquired earlier this year, can be thought of as Facebook for the supply chain: it keeps track of what’s happening with trading partners, and helps to automate the onboarding process when new partners are added or existing partners change their configurations.
Customers are interested in RollStream, Brook says. “Trading partner onboarding and configuration and validation is one of their biggest challenges, just from a time and cost perspective,” he says. The technology works with TLi and BizManager/400 today, but it’s not yet available as a finished product.