Web-enabling: Back to the future

A few years ago, the mainframe was supposedly on its way out, to be replaced

by the smaller and less expensive client/ server platform. However, the

rise of the Web and problems with extending and maintaining clients on large

numbers of PCs have put client/server solutions under a darkening cloud.

Agencies with little money for new Unix or Windows NT systems are looking

more closely at how to extend the life of legacy systems.

That has led to a new appreciation for the flexibility of the mainframe,

according to Bill Smithson, manager for information technology services

at Material, Communication and Computers Inc.

"You can partition a mainframe in many different ways so you can put

a lot of different environments onto it," he said. "Agencies are beginning

to segment their mainframes to put their legacy environments into one part

and make sure it's not connected to anything else, then they are upgrading

their operating systems to use TCP/IP for the Web or, if running a network

over something such as [IBM Corp.'s] Token Ring, to have those packages

also work over the Web."

Organizations have become increasingly frustrated with the cost and

complexity of IT projects, according to Mark Ello, account executive with

access vendor Attachmate Corp., and want solutions that will let them modernize

much faster.

"They've been spending millions of dollars on application development

projects, with very little fruit to show for it at the end," Ello said.

"A lot of customers have been burned in the past from the big projects,

and now they want more immediate payback."

Mainframe vendors such as IBM have already embraced the Web as the way

of the future, Smithson said, and are pushing the use of mainframes as Web

servers by incorporating mainframe-to-Web capabilities in new releases of

their operating systems.

"Government agencies are increasingly finding they can get themselves

a viable server platform by putting a Web interface onto their mainframes,"

he said. "It's becoming a major business."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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