The latest versions of IBM's WebFacing tool may save you a lot of money in hardware and software on an iSeries compared to other 5250 Web-enabling options. Like the other 5250 Web-enabling options, WebFacing lets you run the same 5250 application for green-screen users and Web users. No need to write a special application just to access existing 5250 applications from the Web! The difference with WebFacing applications compared to the other options is you don't have to run them on the iSeries or use WebSphere, iSeries Access or HATS. Also, a 5250 application run as part of a WebFacing applications can run in server mode which means you don't use interactive CPW -- the cost killer on iSeries.
The other 5250 Web-enabling tools do a better job of automating system screens than WebFacing and normally provide a useful interface for system administrators and programmers. By comparison, WebFacing produces Java Web applications that are more customizable than these other options. In most situations where Web applications are accessed by external users WebFacing is the preferred choice. Now, with version 5.1.2's new support for system UIM screens, WebFacing covers even more options. You may be able to buy an i5 Standard edition system vs. an Enterprise edition system, which could save you more than $100,000 in many cases.
Here's a brief comparison of WebFacing to other IBM 5250 Web-enabling options:
- iSeries Access for the Web and HATS LE (5722-XH1)
Easy to setup 5250 Web enablement but no real customization capability. Requires WebSphere.
- HATS full version with Host Publisher
More costly and more complex setup BUT allows a lot more customization and integration than iSeries Access for the Web.
- Host on Demand client
You buy this as a client license. It interfaces to the built-in Http server. You license it based on current users. It's relatively inexpensive at only $300 per client license. It also provides remote printing support for iSeries spool data.
- Secure Telnet
The built-in Telnet server is available on every iSeries server and is free. The Mochasoft 5250 client works very well with this server. It also supports SSL connections for secure access as do all the other IBM options including WebFacing.
Remember, all the other options require interactive CPW to run 5250 applications, so you need to buy an i5 Enterprise server to run any of those options.
The WebFacing tool is part of IBM's latest versions (v.5.1.2) of the WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries (WDSC). WDSC has two editions: Standard and Advanced. The Standard edition is part of WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries (5722-WDS). Most iSeries customers received this software at no-charge based on their prior use of RPG, COBOL or PDT (SEU) under IBM software maintenance. If you have it, you can just load it on your Windows or Linux workstation. If you don't own WDS, you can purchase it. It's tier priced by processor group for your iSeries.
The Advanced edition of the WebFacing tool comes with WDSC Advanced edition. This must be purchased separately as an individual client license. It costs $5,000 per client.
The Standard edition of the WebFacing tool lets you generate Java Web applications from the DDS Display file source for your 5250 RPG and COBOL applications. You use a simple wizard to do the generation. The generated Java Web application can be packaged and deployed to ANY Java Web application server in your network! Here's a simple view of the topology of a WebFacing application on a Java Web application server:
The Tier 2 system shows the Web application server running. This is where the generated WebFacing Java Web application runs. The Java Web application connects to your 5250 program running on the tier 3 system through the WebFacing server on the tier 3 system. The WebFacing server is a free software server built in to OS/400 on V5R1 and later systems. The tier 2 system and the tier 3 system COULD be a single iSeries server. If you have the capacity to run both regular Web applications and green-screen applications on the same box, great. If not, you have several options:
- Upgrade your iSeries to add more capacity.
- Get a new i5 as a Web front-end to your existing iSeries production server.
- Use another system (Windows or Linux) to run the Java portion of your WebFacing applications.
Option 1, the iSeries upgrade, MAY be very expensive if it moves you to a new processor group or an i5 system. Not only will your IBM software go up in price as you move to a new processor, but so will your application package software in many cases. Looking at an upgrade of an existing 810 system, feature 2467 (1470 CPW), for one customer to support a WebSphere workload, the i520 904 upgrade was $96,800! That's a lot of money to get started with Web applications for your business. By comparison, upgrading to a Standard edition i520 904 box with the SAME 3300 CPW power is only $40,000 -- a savings of almost 60% over the Enterprise upgrade.
Can you upgrade to a Standard edition server instead of an Enterprise edition one? That depends on two key items. First, can your existing users "live" with a Web browser interface vs. green screen to their applications? Good news. The WebFacing application by default has the same layout and navigation in a browser as the existing green-screen terminals do. Second, you need to purchase the WDSC Advanced and use the new system screen support to WebFace many of the system screens your users may be accessing as part of the 5250 applications: WRKOUTQ, etc. ONLY the Advanced version of the tool provides system screen support. If you don't want to purchase the Advanced version, you can use an IBM business partner specializing in WebFacing services (such as ebt-now) to do the Advanced WebFacing for you to test it out.
Option 2 is a great option for many companies -- get a new i5 server as a Web front end to your existing iSeries production server. A new I5 comes with WebSphere Express built in at no-charge. There's no need to order the full version of the WebSphere Application Server anymore to run WebFacing applications. In addition, IF you get a Standard edition i5 server, it IS a good price/performer compared to many other IBM options. That i5 904 system with Standard edition software is only $50,000 for the whole system AND you get to keep your existing iSeries as the "back-end" application server hosting the existing green-screen users. In effect, you've bought an extra 1470 CPW of server horsepower for about $10,000, plus the additional maintenance -- a very good deal indeed.
Option 3, using a Windows or Linux server as a Web front end to the existing iSeries system, is great if you're just starting out with Web applications and need to show some business results BEFORE you can get any real budget to afford the other options. You can easily set up the free Apache Tomcat Web application server quickly on Windows or Linux (30 minutes) and load and run your WebFacing application Java code there. It can connect to your back-end 5250 applications on the iSeries on your TCP LAN easily. This is very cost-effective. One company I worked with didn't have the iSeries horsepower to run WebSphere applications concurrently with existing green-screen applications. They were trying to system test a Java Web application on the iSeries and getting five minutes or more response time between Web pages. I had them "run" to the store and spend $1,200 on a new PC, which now runs the Java Web application with great response time connecting back to the production iSeries server. We setup the Apache Tomcat software to run this application quickly.
Those three options can help you save money -- a lot of money. You just need to understand if they apply to your specific situation. A lot of IBMers and business partners don't have the full details on WebFacing or the other 5250 options yet. You're probably best looking for one that specializes in WebFacing services to plan any potential applications, upgrades and infrastructure. Our company, ebt-now, is a WebFacing services provider, but there are other ones as well. If you visit IBM's WDSC site for WebFacing you'll find our company there along with most of the other approved WebFacing services providers.
About the author:
Jim Mason, president of ebt-now, is an iSeries WebSphere architect, trainer and developer. ebt-now provides iSeries WebSphere, WebFacing engineering, development and training services. He's developed the VDM method for Visual Development of Web applications in WDSC offered over the Web at www.ebt-now.com. He's producing a course book and offering Web-based training on VDM development for iSeries developers. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-888-0344.
This was first published in September 2004