y now, most of you working in the AS/400 world know that it is possible to turn your machine into a web server and e-mail server. It's easy to find dozens of articles highlighting the benefits of setting up your AS/400 as one of these servers. However, it is not so easy to find out which solution is best for you and how to implement it. When I first dove into the world of TCP/IP on the AS/400, I was overwhelmed with questions about hardware configurations, security and other communications issues. To make matters worse, I was trying to do all this on a machine running V3R1 with limited TCP/IP support. After many hours of research and development I managed to find solutions for V3R1, and later, V3R7. It is my hope that this article will allow you to benefit from my experiences when you decide that it's time to unleash the power of your AS/400 as an intranet, internet or extranet server.
Before you begin to explore the world of TCP/IP on your AS/400, you should identify the areas within your organization that could stand to benefit from TCP/lP and then formulate a strategy to implement integrated, cost-effective solutions. To illustrate this point, let's take a look at a case study of ABC Corp., a fictional company that I will use to Illustrate real-life problems and solutions:
ABC Corp., a distributor of computer peripherals, has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax and uses an AS/400 in Toronto to run its corporate applications. Officevision/400 is the current corporate e-mail system but the employees find it difficult to use. In addition, there is pressure from employees to get internet mail addresses so that they can communicate with customers more effectively.
Currently, all orders are taken either by telephone or EDI. Each location has a large customer service department that is responsible for taking orders and responding to customer inquiries. Some of ABC's larger customers have the ability to dial into the Toronto machine and inquire on the status of their orders, etc, using X.25 connections. There is increasing pressure from other customers for the ability to dial into ABC's system, however, they cannot afford dedicated lines.
The sales force is provided with weekly reports on quota levels and other sales statistics that are usually obsolete before the salesperson has a chance to review them.
As you can see from the background information, there are several great opportunities to implement TCP/IP as a cost-effective solution. As mentioned above, the first step in the process is to identify troubled areas and associate the relevant TCP/IP applications that could solve the problems. Following, are several examples of potential TCP/IP solutions for ABC:
After the three solutions mentioned above are implemented, the next logical step for ABC would be to publish an electronic catalogue over the internet as an introduction to e-commerce. By definition, a commercial presence on the internet would allow ABC to easily tap into markets that it never thought possible, or worthwhile to pursue.
Let's summarize where we stand. We have identified three TCP/IP solutions to solve some of ABC's problems. We know what is required but how do we do it? Most ISP's and web enablement shops agree that it is best to start small and work your way up to larger projects when implementing web solutions. The following table illustrates a typical development roadmap:
Stage 1: Configure TCP/IP and setup SMTP and POP3 e-mail for internal use.
Stage 2: Develop a simple Intranet web site to replace continuously-changing company information, i.e., Employee Manuals and Policies, Company Directories, etc.
Stage 3: Develop a corporate web site and publish it on the web (along with Internet e-mail.)
Stage 4: Develop a dynamic web site that serves DB2/400 data for e-commerce or extranet purposes.
Now that we have a roadmap and know what we want, let's take a look at how to do it. I will apply the three previously discussed solutions to the typical internet enablement roadmap.
TCP/IP Configuration: This is a relatively simple procedure because all of the components required are shipped with V3R7 and V3R2 and there are less security concerns when setting up a 'trusted' network. A fast path setup manual is available from IBM that shows you a quick and easy way to configure TCP/IP on your AS/400, however it provides you with limited information. To be on the safe side, I recommend some background reading on TCP/IP with regard to IP addressing and Subnet masks. Subnet masks setup logical networks that can become confusing if configured incorrectly. Detailed information on this topic can also be found in the AS/400 TCP/IP Configuration and Reference manual.
SMTP and POP3 Setup: The TCP/IP manual explains how to configure your POP3 and SMTP servers, and user directory entries. Once you have completed this setup and have turned your AS/400 into a mail server, you can run your internal e-mail using regular Internet mail clients such as Eudora, Netscape Mail and Microsoft Outlook, etc. NOTE: If you are running on V3R1, there is limited TCP/IP support for e-mail. POP3 is not available on this version.
Although the ABC case study makes no mention of intranet-type solutions, it would be a good idea to implement one as an introduction to HTML and basic web server configuration before tackling an Internet solution. I am not going to cover how to build a simple web site because there are numerous tools out there that make it easy to do. What I will focus on, is what will serve the Intranet content to ABC's internal customer base.
There are a few options available for serving web content from an AS/400, namely Internet Connection/400, I/Net's Webserver/400 and Lotus Domino running on an IPCS card. Depending on your current hardware and operating systems, each solution may or may not be appropriate for you.
Internet Connection/400: This is an IBM offering that is shipped with V3R7 and V3R2. It is designed as a cheap and effective way to become familiar with the HTTP protocol and web content serving in general. If you follow the TCP/IP Configuration and Reference manual, you will be able to configure the HTTP server and begin serving web content relatively quickly.
I/Net's Webserver/400: I/Net was first to offer a product,Webserver/400, that turned the AS/400 into a web server. Webserver/400 is extremely easy to configure and maintain. It runs on V3R1 ,or higher, and has more robust security, multiple server support and good statistics logging, to name a few differentiating features. I have worked with both IC/400 and Webserver/400 and find the I/Net solution to be superior in all aspects.
V3R1 Users: If you do not plan on upgrading from V3R1 to V3R2/V3R7 in the near future and want to setup an intranet solution, then Webserver/400 is your only option.
V3R2/V3R7 Users: If you are currently running on V3R2/V3R7 or even using the IC/400 tools, you should consider using the Webserver/400 product to enable restricted access to certain HTML pages or to setup multiple web sites, i.e., test and production.
Lotus Domino: Domino is a good solution to building web sites but is not within the scope of this article. My focus is on integrated solutions that run native on the AS/400. Domino currently runs on an IPCS card and accesses your AS/400 data using Notes Pump or the Data Propagator.
Most companies familiarize themselves with TCP/IP and its suite of applications (HTTP, SMTP, POP3, etc) in an Intranet environment. Once all security configuration and site design has been established, they are ready to hook up to the Internet. At this point you would need the following components in place:
Getting back to our case study, ABC Corp. would benefit by giving customers access to existing green-screen apps over the net. IC/400 and Webserver/400 both have tools available to perform this function:
IC/400s Work Station Gateway: The Work Station Gateway (WSG) converts 5250 datastream into HTML on-the-fly. It is essentially a web-enabled emulation package that can be used to access your existing AS/400 apps over the net.
Using Webulator, ABC's customers would be able to access existing inquiry screens in a GUI format with no programming required. The only software required on the client side is a generic Internet browser like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. There are no remote deployment issues because all configuration and maintenance is done on the server side.
When you want to get serious about doing e-commerce over the Internet, the only options available to you are I/Net's CommerceServer/400 and Merchant/400. IBM will be delivering an e-commerce solution in V4R1 but I am unable to discuss the details at this time, (August 13, 1997). CommerceServer/400 provides secure server functionality with SSL and up to 128 bit encryption. Merchant/400 is an add-on to CommerceServer that allows secure credit card transaction processing over the net with interfaces to financial institutions.
In order to develop the actual dynamic web site, you will need to learn CGI scripting (Common Gateway Interface). The languages available to you on the AS/400 to develop scripts are RPG, COBOL, REXX, C, Net.Data and Java.
Traditional AS/400 Languages: Scripts, written in the traditional AS/400 languages, are programs that use API calls to retrieve information from and send responses back to remote browsers. CommerceServer (and Webserver) comes with some examples for RPG, REXX and C scripts for you to copy and modify to fit your needs. An example of a very successful site written in RPG is Pacific Brokerage (www.pbs.com). It may not be the best looking site on the net, but it is extremely functional with good response time. The lack of graphics on this site is by design. The AS/400 as a web server can serve multimedia with the best of them!
Java: I will not go into much detail about Java on the AS/400 except to mention that applets can be created to serve your data using Visual Age for Java along with the AS/400 Toolbox for Java (available for download from IBM's web site).
ABC Corp. could develop a web site for its sales force using one or more of the languages mentioned above. Sales people would have the ability to access current information in an easy-to-use graphical format, while on the road. The information would be secure and protected from unauthorized access by using a secure server.
We have learned that TCP/IP, and its suite of applications, can be used to solve many business and technology problems in an elegant and cost-effective manner. The ABC case study outlined some problem areas. We thought of potential solutions using TCP/IP, but needed a strategy to make them a reality. We looked at a typical implementation roadmap and utilized it, along with some of the available product offerings, to illustrate conceptually how you would implement these solutions.
If you have not thought about TCP/IP and web enablement as an alternative for future development, think again. AS/400 shops are increasingly using TCP/IP to improve customer service while reducing costs, gain strategic competitive advantages over companies ignoring this technology, and extend their market reach within a global economy. The best part is that most of the tools required, to do this, come shipped with your machine.