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System security in an unsecured world

The only truly secure computer is one that's turned off and other truths administrators should understand about security

By Kate Evans-Correia, news editor,

Making system security a number one priority should be a no-brainer for AS/400 administrators, but security experts say that all too often, many shops don't deal with security until they get burned.

Richard Serrano, vice president of sales and marketing for Palace Guard Software (PGS), a provider of security software for the AS/400, says his preaching about the importance of security often falls on deaf ears. While many organizations take advantage of the new technologies available to increase productivity, they are not giving equal consideration to the security of their systems and networks. Serrano says he's adamant about security, and not solely from a vendor's perspective. He considers security an integral part of conducting business in today's fast-paced world and not only as a "down-in-the-dungeon" issue. news editor, Kate Evans-Correia, interviewed Serrano about security and the hackers administrators should really fear.

IBM may say it's committed to supporting the AS/400 as a Web server, but some IT professionals say that unless Big Blue is willing to push hard to promote the platform, the server is doomed.

"If IBM doesn't keep pushing the AS/400 as a modern Web application server, chances are it won't exist for very long as a server," said Burke Allen, president and CEO, Novologic, Inc.

"If it's not marketed as a Web server, it's going to be overlooked as a Web server, especially to people who don't use it or aren't that familiar with it," added Allen.

Among the respondents to a poll, 56 percent said IBM's support of the AS/400 as a Web server is critical. Thirty percent cited IBM's support as important but not critical. Among the respondents, there was little doubt that the AS/400 has what it takes to be a viable Web server, but many professionals said they feared IBM would not give it the marketing support it needs.

While IBM has supported Web applications on the AS/400 as early as the late 1980s, interest in the AS/400 as a Web server exploded in late 1998 when IBM introduced its development tool, Websphere. Expanding its commitment to E-business, IBM announced partnerships at the end of January with several companies that develop applications on the WebSphere platform, including J.D. Edwards, Siebel, Synquest, Versifi and Vignette.

"I feel that IBM can drive the boat this time--if they keep it up," said Chris Eidsmoe, senior programmer/analyst, SAFECO Select Insurance Services, Santa Ana, CA. "The AS/400 is the most reliable server there is. Websphere and it's development tools, Studio and VisualAge for Java are the most robust available."

The big question for the AS/400 said Jim Mason, president of Cape Cod Bay Systems and a consultant and teacher on the AS/400, is not if the AS/400 is a viable Web server, but whether it can be successful as a Web server in non-AS/400 shops.

About 90 percent of the time, the AS/400 is a good choice as a Web server for most applications, said Mason. "Put aside the fact that there's usually a software gap between the AS/400 and other IBM products, the AS/400 can meet the needs of most shops."

"Most customers don't know what it can do," he added. "The average account doesn't think hard enough as to why it is or isn't a good server. Clearly, the AS/400 should be getting a piece of the pie."

Unfortunately, said Mason, a lot of Web developers won't even look at the AS/400.

"The fact is, the AS/400 is an excellent option if you're in an AS/400 shop already," said Mason. But, strategically, it might not make sense to non-AS/400 shops. IBM doesn't push it the way it should because it has other products to push, he added.

"It does look like they're going to support it," said Allen. "I don't have a problem with the way they're marketing it now-but it's critical that they continue down that path. Don't do any less, that's for sure."

"Along with Domino, the AS/400 is IBM's most strategic weapon against its competitors," said Allen. "I feel that the combination of these two technologies should be pushed as IBM's main Web solution for its customers. Both products have extreme customer loyalty, and provide one of the quickest paths for new and exiting customers to web-enable their businesses without the need to go out and hire an army of web-techs."

"With the largest install base of any platform, it only makes sense to keep driving the "brand" as the technology choice for web applications," Allen said. "Everyone that has been around the AS/400 for any period of time knows that while the AS/400 name has stayed the same, the technology underneath the hood has changed many times giving its customers new competitive choices, while at the same time protecting their existing application investments."

Mason said it will only be a matter of time before the AS/400 emerges, or doesn't, as a Web server with enough application support to keep it a viable product. It will be the market acceptance that will determine its future, not the reliability of the system.

"The AS/400 TCP/IP and Web-server capabilities are absolutely essential components in our business," said Jeffrey Geldermann of Credentials Inc., based in Northfield, IL. Geldermann, who said he installed an AS/400 S20 a little over two years ago, built his company's entire business using only the AS/400 platform. "Our system and the related AS/400-based network technology is managed by a technical staff of two people. It doesn't get much easier or economical than that."

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