March 17, 1997 10:00 AM ET
Microsoft makes mainframe moves
Developing browser-based hooks into legacy systems
By Norvin Leach and Paula Musich

  A series of new products from Microsoft Corp. could provide smoother Web access to host-based data, as well as better links between mainframes and Windows NT.

Microsoft is developing ActiveX-enabled versions of SNA Server 3.0's 5250 and 3270 applets for browser-based access to System 390 mainframe and AS/400 midrange applications, said sources close to the Redmond, Wash., company.

In addition, Microsoft has begun privately beta testing a product code-named Cakewalk that replicates mainframe databases to SQL Server. Next month, beta testing will begin for a product code-named Thor, which provides access via OLE-DB to host file systems.

Another package, code-named Cedar, links host CICS (Customer Information Control System) and IMS (Information Management System) data files to the Microsoft Transaction Server.

Together, the products bolster Microsoft's plan to give Windows NT more responsibility in a com-pany without sacrificing the serv-ices of legacy systems.

Although a wealth of third-party 3270 and 5250 client emulators are now available for SNA Server, developers have been slow to use ActiveX to create browser-based versions of emulators that work with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Some have opted instead to use Java for creating Netscape Communications Corp. Navigator-enabled host access.

NetSoft will be the first to release a full-function browser-based emulator using ActiveX. NetManage Inc. also is likely to develop an ActiveX-based emulator, the sources said.

Although users are cautious about Web security, internal browser-to-mainframe links cause less concern than external access.

"Security would be less of a problem over an intranet," said Rick Kwasnicki, an IS manager for a large Canadian bank. "Access over the Internet would be a different issue, but if we were allowing that, we would use tunneling software, firewalls and authentication."

With Cedar, which entered beta testing this month, Microsoft is working to advance ease of accessing mainframe CICS or IMS transactions so that no training is required.

To bring data down to SQL Server, Microsoft last month began beta testing Cakewalk, which provides snapshot replication from DB2 databases. The product, to be sold as an add-on to SNA Server and SQL Server, uses the Open Database Connectivity/Distributed Relational Database Architecture driver included with SQL Server to link to the host data. Microsoft's Thor software provides an OLE-DB driver for access to the AS/400 and Virtual Sequential Access Method file systems. The software will be included in a later version of SNA Server or a service pack.

Microsoft officials declined to comment.

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