Heavenly Host: Web-to-Host Product Roundup

NT-based Web-to-host products that will have your Web-client users singing your praises

\[Editor's Note: This comparative review originally included test results for WRQ's Reflection for the Web 3.0. At press time, the vendor had released version 4.0, which contains significant changes to the reviewed product; version 3.0 is no longer available for purchase. For these reasons, Reflections for the Web 3.0 doesn't appear in this review. For information about Reflection for the Web 4.0, see WRQ's Web site at http://www.wrq.com/.\]

Providing host-server access to your customers and offsite users is a great way to leverage your enterprise business' sizeable investments: IBM mainframe or AS/400 systems and the Web infrastructure that you use for intranet, extranet, and Internet functions. The Web-to-host products in this review provide remote and global Internet access to your IBM host systems—without requiring the hosts to have expensive dedicated communication links. The only required software on the client side is a standard Web browser. When you install Web-to-host software on a Web server, a user can download a Java applet or an ActiveX control to a Web-based client, then use that control to run host terminal emulation sessions from the client's Web browser. One product (Winsurf Mainframe Access 2.5) provides host access through on-the-fly HTML conversion in addition to using ActiveX controls. Figure 1 provides an overview of a typical Web-to-host implementation.

I tested eight Windows NT-based Web-to-host products. The basic review criteria were the products' ability to provide IBM mainframe 3270 terminal emulation, to provide IBM AS/400 5250 terminal emulation, and to directly locate host network resources without using Windows 2000 Active Directory (AD) or a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server (Table 1, page 108, summarizes the products' features). The Web server I installed the products on was a 200MHz Pentium Pro processor system with 128MB of RAM, running Microsoft IIS 4.0. I used Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 and IE 4.0 on my client systems, and I ran the terminal emulation sessions across a 10MB Ethernet network segment.

A Host of Key Features
The Web-to-host products that I tested displayed definite differences in several key areas. These areas include the type of host connection, printer-emulation support, centralized management capabilities, terminal-emulation controls and display options, and security and data-stream-encryption support.

The host connection. Most of the Web-to-host products I reviewed fall into one of two camps: products that establish direct connections between clients and the host server, and products that channel connections through the Web server. Each method had trade-offs. The products that connect clients directly to the host typically rely upon the host server to provide monitoring and session-level security. This arrangement prevents the Web server from becoming a bottleneck but usually means that the Web-to-host software can't provide session-monitoring or security-management capabilities. Products that connect clients through the Web server typically provide centralized session monitoring and security, but the Web server also becomes a potential point of failure. Several products support both direct and gateway-style connections between the clients and the host; these products offer the best of both worlds.

Printer emulation. All the products provide 3270 and 5250 terminal emulation, but some products lack printer-emulation support, which lets users produce local printouts rather than depend on printers at the host-system location. Several products support 3270 printer emulation but don't support the enhanced TN5250 protocol, which is necessary for 5250 printer emulation.

Centralized management. Centralized configuration and session monitoring are important Web-to-host product management features. Centralized configuration lets you set up and configure from a common management location all client-to-host connections, thus vastly simplifying the deployment of multiple clients. The ability to set up and manage groups as well as individual users is another useful deployment feature. Centralized session monitoring can help you troubleshoot your system and track licensing from one management location. All the products that I reviewed provide centralized configuration. However, centralized monitoring is a different story: Some products let me monitor and record usage and generate management reports; other products provide no monitoring capabilities.

Terminal-emulation controls and display options. Most of the products I reviewed provide host-server connectivity through a Java applet that the client downloads; some products provide an ActiveX control or Web-server-based on-the-fly HTML conversion. (Several products provide multiple mechanisms.) Although all the products provide basic terminal emulation through a standard Web browser, some products also provide browserless host-server access through Java applications or standalone Windows-based applications.

The quality of the products' terminal emulation displays also differs. Some products provide only a standard 25-line character-based display, so I needed to scroll to see the entire screen. Other products provide a resizable display that let me see the entire screen within the browser; this type of display is easier to work with. Many of the products also support as many state-of-the-art display-emulation features as standalone host-emulation software provides. For example, some products provide full support for custom keyboard mapping and screen colors, as well as macro recording and custom programming interfaces.

Security and data-stream encryption. Security is always of paramount concern, especially when a connection takes place over the Internet. Standard 3270 and 5250 emulation products send clear-text streams between the client and the host server. This type of connection is acceptable for local network connections but is unacceptable across an Internet-based WAN link. The reviewed products that connect clients directly to the host server either provide no session security or else rely on host-based Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) support. The products that use gateway-style connections generally encrypt the data stream between the client and the Web server. Some of these products also encrypt the data stream between the Web server and the host server, but most of the products generally require the Web server/host server connection to occur over a secure network link. All the products that provide security do so through SSL; the products that provide data-stream encryption employ various encryption protocols. Almost every product lets you customize the TCP/IP ports that the client uses to connect to the host server so that you can easily change the default port in secure firewall-based installations.

Of the products that I reviewed, my favorite is IBM's WebSphere Host On-Demand 4.0. The product is easy to configure and use, and it provides all the advanced display and printer emulation features that I expect from the maker of IBM mainframe and AS/400 systems. In addition, the product's unique Database On-Demand feature lets end users submit ad hoc databases. The product also provides excellent security, permitting encryption of both Web-to-host and Web-to-client sessions.

Anota Java Terminal 2.1
Anota Java Terminal 2.1 provides a collection of Java applets that clients can download from the Web server; clients can also run the product directly as a standalone Java application. Anota Java Terminal provides direct-connection 3270 and 5250 terminal and printer emulation, as well as VT100 terminal emulation. In addition, the software supports IND$FILE mainframe file transfers. Because the product doesn't provide code to run on the Web server, you can use Anota Java Terminal on any server running an HTTP-compliant Web-server product, such as IIS 4.0, IIS 3.0, Netscape Enterprise Server, or Apache Web Server. Clients can run IE 4.07 or later or Netscape Navigator 4.51 or later. You must install Java Virtual Machine (JVM) 1.1.5 or later on the clients.

Anota Java Terminal consists of four primary components: Anota Manager, Anota Profile Editor, Anota ReportMaker, and Anota Scheduler. You can use Anota Manager to centrally configure groups and users and to monitor emulation sessions, as Figure 2 shows. You can use Anota Profile Editor to configure emulation sessions. Anota ReportMaker uses Seagate Crystal Reports to generate several predefined management reports (e.g., Network Usage by User, Failed Connections, Top 10 Active Users); you can also create custom reports. You can use Anota Scheduler to automatically run reports at specific times.

The product arrived on a CD-ROM that contained both NT and UNIX versions. Installation was cumbersome: Instead of automatically starting the installation process, the CD-ROM's Autorun utility merely opened a Windows Explorer view of the CD-ROM's root directory. To install the NT version, I ran the setup.exe program from the CD-ROM's Win32 directory. Installation was a multipart process: I ran the setup three times to install all the necessary components on the Web server. The first time I ran setup.exe, it terminated with the installation of a desktop icon for Anota's Java Runtime Environment (JRE). I needed to select the icon and run setup again to install JRE. After the JRE setup completed, I needed to rerun the original setup program to install Anota Java Terminal on the Web server. By default, the product created and installed into an Anota directory under the Web server's /wwwroot directory.

Each emulation session opened in a new window. I experienced about a 5 second delay while the Java applet downloaded to the client's Web browser and connected to the host server. The product's performance was good. The emulation session supported dynamic resizing and hot spots, and Anota Manager let me perform administration tasks for all users, user groups, and individual users.

Anota Java Terminal let me use SSL to implement a secure connection to the host server; because the product connects directly to the host server, the host must support SSL to implement a secure connection. By default, Anota Java Terminal uses the standard Telnet connection on port 23, which the product lets you customize. You can use Anota Manager to monitor specified connections on port 3812. In addition to its monitoring capabilities, the product let me log terminal sessions to the server or to a file.

This product's poor documentation consisted of clumsy HTML files, which didn't cover many aspects of the product or provide much help with the product's setup and use (e.g., the documentation didn't include step-by-step guides or tutorials). The online Help was identical to the documentation and provided no index or search capabilities; Anota Manager and Anota Profile Editor didn't include Help files. Although configuring the product was easy and using the Anota Profile Editor to create an emulation-session profile took only a matter of minutes, I would have welcomed a tutorial and searchable online Help. I configured an emulation session, but the documentation didn't explain how to integrate the Anota Java applet into my Web pages. (After I searched through all the product's installed files, I discovered that the product automatically built a main.html Web page with links to each profile that I created.)

Although Anota Java Terminal wasn't the easiest product to work with, it provided good terminal- and printer-emulation capabilities. In addition, the product's centralized monitoring capabilities were good—an unusual benefit in a product that connects clients directly to the host server. However, Anota Java Terminal had many rough edges, particularly involving the installation process and documentation.

Anota Java Terminal 2.1
Contact: Anota * 817-442-8480 or 888-246-3039
Web: http://www.anota.com/
Price: Starts at less than $100 per user; quantity discounts available
Decision Summary:
Pros: Good emulation capabilities; centralized monitoring; low price
Cons: Multistep installation; poor Help and documentation

e-Vantage Host Access Server 2.2
Attachmate's e-Vantage Host Access Server (HAS) 2.2 supports direct-connection 3270 terminal and printer emulation, 5250 terminal emulation, and a variety of asynchronous-type terminal emulations (e.g., VT52, VT100, VT400, ANSI bulletin board system—BBS) for use with Digital Equipment and UNIX host servers. The product doesn't support 5250 printer emulation, but it does provide FTP and IND$FILE file transfers. The product provides Java applets and ActiveX controls. You can install e-Vantage HAS on a Web server running NT 4.0 Service Pack 3 (SP3). The server must also run IIS 4.0 or later with Active Server Pages (ASP) extensions or run Netscape Enterprise Server with Chili!Soft ASP 3.0. Clients require Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1 support and must run IE 4.01 or later, Netscape Navigator 4.06 or later, or Netscape Navigator 4.04 with JDK 1.1.

The product consists of four basic components: Host Viewer for NT, Host Access Viewer for UNIX, Management Console, and Emulation Session Services. Host Viewer for NT and Host Access Viewer for UNIX provide NT and UNIX implementations of the product's HostViewer Services, which is the product's core Web-to-host component and provides the connection controls. Management Console lets you centrally manage Attachmate's thick clients, such as the Extra! Personal Client; Emulation Session Services provides support for custom COM-based host-server access objects.

Although Attachmate provides Viewers for both NT and UNIX, the company sensibly supplies the Viewers on separate CD-ROMs. This arrangement lets the NT product use Windows AutoPlay to automatically and smoothly launch installation. The installation automatically stopped the IIS service, then e-Vantage HAS added a set of Virtual Directories to IIS. During installation, the product prompted me to enter the domain server's name, which the product later used for user authentication. After the installation completed, e-Vantage HAS automatically restarted the IIS service.

I opened a host-server connection with ease. To access the product's browser-based management tools, I could use the Web server's Start menu or point the client's browser to the Virtual Directory http://Webserver/haadmin/. The configuration process began by displaying a blank Host Access Configurations page; I clicked New Configuration to create emulation sessions, as Figure 3 shows, for my terminal and printer.

After I defined an emulation-session configuration, the New Connection Wizard opened and eventually prompted me to create WebViews, which define the sessions that each user can access. Each WebView consisted of one or more emulation sessions or links to other custom applications. Next, the wizard prompted me to assign users to each WebView. The Viewer integrated with NT's SAM database and populated the user access window (i.e., the window in which I assigned users to WebViews) with a list of groups and users from the networked PDC. Although the product supported central configuration, it didn't let me centrally monitor all concurrent sessions because I didn't have the e-Vantage SNA Gateway.

To access the newly created WebViews, I pointed the client browser to the Virtual Directory http://Webserver/hostaccess. After I logged on to the e-Vantage server, the product displayed a list of authorized WebViews. I selected a WebView to launch the predefined terminal emulation session. If the WebView specified a Java applet, the session opened in an independent window; if the WebView specified an ActiveX control, the session opened in the browser. The Java applet downloaded to the client and connected the client to the host server in about 5 seconds. The ActiveX control downloaded and installed in about 2 minutes during the first session, then connected the client to the host server in about 3 seconds during subsequent sessions. The product let me dynamically resize the emulation display and customize keyboard layout and screen attributes.

The product provided security through SSL and supported several encryption methods, including RSA, RC4, Data Encryption Standard (DES), and Triple DES (3DES). Unfortunately, these capabilities required either SSL support on the host server or a secure host gateway, such as the e-Vantage SNA Gateway.

The product's documentation, which consisted of a set of four comprehensive, spiral-bound manuals covering each of the product's primary components, was the best of any I reviewed. The documentation was professionally produced and complete, with good troubleshooting and task-oriented sections.

Overall, e-Vantage HAS was extremely easy to set up and configure and provided high-quality terminal emulation. The documentation was truly excellent—far better than any of the other products' documentation. Unfortunately, centralized session monitoring and secure host connections require you to purchase the e-Vantage SNA Gateway.

e-Vantage Host Access Server 2.2
Contact: Attachmate * 425-644-4010 or 800-426-6283
Web: http://www.attachmate.com/
Price: $214
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy installation and configuration; excellent Help and documentation
Cons: No security or central monitoring without the e-Vantage SNA Gateway

HostFront 1.7
Farabi Technology provides different HostFront 1.7 versions for IBM mainframe and AS/400 connectivity. I tested the AS/400 version. This product uses SNA Server to provide direct 5250 terminal and printer emulation as well as gateway-style AS/400 connectivity. HostFront 1.7 lets you use a Java applet or ActiveX control to establish an emulation session. In addition, HostFront provides a powerful file-transfer component with SQL record-selection capabilities; rather than relying on FTP, this component relies on the host system's internal database server. Because the product doesn't run code on the Web server, HostFront is compatible with any Windows-based HTTP Web-server product, such as IIS 4.0 or later, Netscape Enterprise Server, or Apache Web Server. Clients must run IE 4.0 or later or Netscape Navigator 4.08 or later.

HostFront's primary components consist of HostFront Server and a set of Java applets and ActiveX controls. You can use HostFront Server to create users, configure host connections, and monitor sessions.

Installation was quick and easy. An Autorun file automatically launched the installation process when I inserted the product CD-ROM into my Web server. However, the installation program terminated when it detected that IIS was running; I needed to manually stop IIS before restarting the installation. Unlike the other products that I reviewed, HostFront's installation required me to choose between an Internet or intranet implementation. The only difference between the two implementations was that the Internet installation option prompted me to enter my domain name to identify the HostFront server, whereas the intranet installation used the NT server's machine name. The installation process created several Virtual Directories off the Web server's root directory; each Virtual Directory contained the HostFront Java applets and ActiveX controls. After the installation completed, I needed to manually restart IIS.

Of all the products I reviewed, HostFront had one of the more difficult processes for setting up multiple users. Instead of first configuring the host-connection characteristics, HostFront first added users, which the product's documentation defines as clients (HostFront integrates client configuration with the NT SAM database; the only users you can add to HostFront are those that you've previously defined using NT's User Manager). Next, I needed to configure the host-connection parameters for each client logon. Because of these requirements, I needed to reenter the host connection characteristics for every user.

After I added the client accounts, I opened an emulation session. The Java applet downloaded and connected in about 3 seconds. The applet ran in a window independent of the Web browser. To access the ActiveX control, I pointed the client Web browser to http://Webserver/HFHTML/AX400.htm. During the initial connection, the ActiveX control took about 5 seconds to download and install on the client system. On all my test systems, initially downloading the ActiveX control caused Windows Explorer to display the /winnt/fonts directory, which didn't harm anything but which I found a bit disconcerting. After I downloaded the control, subsequent connections worked as I expected. The emulation session ran in a new instance of the browser window. Both emulation types let me dynamically resize the session window and customize keyboard mappings and screen colors. The Java applet also let me render the session in a GUI-type format that displayed menu options as buttons and the command line as a text box. HostFront didn't include some of the other products' more advanced features, such as macro or high-level language API (HLLAPI) support.

I used HostFront Service Console, which Figure 4, page 113, shows, to set up client connections and monitor the HostFront Server status. HostFront Server dynamically updated the status display as I added new connections. The console also provided a handy HostFront Server activity log display and an integrated trace function. The Java applet didn't provide support for SSL encryption, but the ActiveX display and printer controls included support for an SSL connection—if SSL support was active on the host server.

HostFront supplied online Help in Windows Help format and a user's guide in Portable Document Format (PDF), which I found awkward. The user's guides for the Java applets and ActiveX controls were in HTML format.

Overall, HostFront's client-oriented configuration made the product better suited to small and midsized implementations. The combination of user and session information might reduce configuration steps for a small number of clients but will greatly increase the required steps for a large number of clients.

HostFront 1.7
Contact: Farabi Technology * 514-332-3455 or 800-565-3455
Web: http://www.farabi.com/
Price: Contact vendor for pricing
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy configuration; good central-monitoring capabilities; powerful file-transfer capabilities
Cons: Difficult multiuser management

OC://WebConnect Pro 4.3
OpenConnect Systems' OC://WebConnect Pro 4.3 provides gateway-style 3270 and 5250 terminal and printer emulation, VT100 and VT220 emulation for use with Digital Equipment servers, and other emulations. The product also permits FTP and IND$FILE file transfers. The product's NT version requires a server running NT 4.0 SP4, but unlike the other products, OC://WebConnect Pro doesn't require IIS or any other Web-server product. Instead, the product opens server ports through which it processes clients' HTTP requests. Clients require JDK 1.1 support, which is available in IE 4.0 or later, Netscape Navigator 4.08 or later, and HotJava 1.1 or later.

The product consists of OC://WebConnect Pro Server and a set of Java applets. OC://WebConnect Pro Server runs as an NT service and provides secured and unsecured ports for client and administrative access.

The product provided NT and UNIX versions on one CD-ROM but didn't provide an AutoPlay installation. To install the NT version, I needed to run the nt43de.exe program from the CD-ROM's WC43 directory. Installation was more involved than for most of the products I reviewed. During installation, I needed to select the IP interfaces to bind with OC://WebConnect Pro Server. I also needed to specify a secured administrative port, an unsecured administrative port, a secured user-access port, and an unsecured user-access port. Even though I didn't plan to use the SNA protocol for host-server connections, I also needed to set up host LU names. The product provided default options, which worked well, but the process still required more effort and preparation than other products did. The installation process added OC://WebConnect as an NT service set up to start automatically under the system account.

After the service starts, administrative clients can immediately connect to the host server by specifying either the secured or unsecured administrative port numbers as part of the URL. (By default, the unsecured administrative port is 4270 and the SSL port is 4443.) To connect to the unsecured OC://WebConnect Server port, I specified URL http://Webserver:4270. (Before I could use the secured SSL server, I needed to use the OC://WebConnect Pro Administrative Wizard to generate an X.509 certificate that OC//:WebConnect's SSL public-key security could use.) The product's administrative Web pages let me set up host configurations, add users, and monitor the server, current users, and sessions. The administrative pages also provided an integrated trace tool for troubleshooting host connections. Figure 5 shows OC://WebConnect Pro's browser-based Administration Session Status page with two connected Web clients.

After emulation-session configuration, users can use OC://WebConnect Pro's secured or unsecured ports to open terminal emulation sessions. (By default, the unsecured client port is 2080 and the SSL port is 2443.) To connect to the unsecured OC://WebConnect Pro access page, I specified URL http://Webserver:2080. The product doesn't provide direct client-to-host connections, but rather directs all client traffic through OC://WebConnect Pro Server. (Users can easily integrate the product's host-access applet with their Web applications by embedding links to these URLs in their Web pages.)

The product uses a Java applet to open emulation sessions; the applet downloaded automatically when I connected to the host access page. The product let me cache the Java applet on my client system, but even without caching, the applet downloaded and connected in about 3 seconds. The emulation session opened in an independent window; I could dynamically resize the host display, record and run macros, and set up a Java HLLAPI (JHLLAPI) programming interface. The product's ability to support TCP/IP Keep-Alive and AutoVista was another interesting emulation feature. (You can use TCP/IP Keep-Alive to keep a session open in the event of a connection disruption; AutoVista is a rules-based Java green-screen-to-GUI conversion tool.)

All OC://WebConnect's administrative and user functions took place through the Web browser, so all the online Help was in HTML format. The documentation on the installation CD-ROM consisted of five .pdf files, but these files didn't install as a part of the installation process and lacked an index, which made them difficult to manage.

OC://WebConnect is a stable, capable product that provides all the essential administrative and security functions I'd need in an enterprise environment. The product's ability to operate independently of Web-server software makes OC://WebConnect Pro unique among the products in this review.

OC://WebConnect Pro 4.3
Contact: OpenConnect Systems 972-484-5200 or 800-551-5881
Web: http://www.openconnect.com/
Price: Contact vendor for pricing
Decision Summary:
Pros: Doesn't require a Web server; excellent host emulation; rules-based GUI-conversion
Cons: Complicated installation process

Persona Insight 4.3
Recently acquired by Esker, Persoft continues to market Persona Insight 4.3 under the Persoft company name. The product provides both a browser-based Java applet and a browserless Java application. Persona Insight provides gateway-connection 3270 terminal and printer emulation, 5250 terminal emulation, and several asynchronous terminal emulations (e.g., VT100, VT220, VT320, Data General D470C and D411, Wyse 50/60). The product doesn't directly support 5250 printer emulation but lets you print 5250 reports to PDF documents. Persona Insight's graphical FTP Drag-and-Drop Client provides file-transfer capabilities. The Web server can run Netscape FastTrack Server, Netscape Enterprise Server, and Netscape SuiteSpot Server as well as IIS. Clients require JDK support and must run IE 4.01 or later, Netscape Navigator 4.06 or later, or earlier Netscape Navigator versions with JDK 1.02.

Persona Insight consists of four main components: Persona Service Manager, Persona Toolbox, Configuration Assistant, and FTP Drag-and-Drop Client. You can use Persona Service Manager to start and stop the Persona Insight background service, customize IP ports, and set session limitations. You can use Persona Toolbox to configure emulation sessions. Configuration Assistant lets you verify configuration settings. You can use FTP Drag-and-Drop Client to provide the graphical file-transfer utility that I mentioned earlier.

Basic installation was easy. The product CD-ROM contained an Autorun file that automatically installed all the required files. After installation was complete, Persona Service Manager, which Figure 6 shows, started automatically. This NT service handles incoming Web-to-host requests.

I used Persona Toolbox to easily open the initial host-server connection. To begin, I selected New Session to open the Session Connection Wizard, which prompted me to enter the emulation type and host-server name. After I entered this information, the session started. I saved the defined session in the Persona Sessions folder; subsequently, I could select the saved session profile to immediately open the emulation session.

I directed the client's Web browser to http://Webserver/persona. The Client Setup Wizard started and prompted the client for the desired connectivity method (i.e., downloaded Java applet, local Java application, or local Windows Thin Client—WTC). The Java applet downloads each time the Web client connects; the Java application and WTC download once, then immediately connect on subsequent usage. Downloading and connecting the Java applet took about 8 seconds. Downloading and installing either the Java or the WTC application initially took about 20 seconds; subsequent connections took about 4 seconds. Unfortunately, after you download the Java application, the client system must perform a reboot before the client can use the application.

The emulation session ran in a separate window. On the first 5250 emulation connection through the Java applet, I couldn't locate the Enter key on the default keyboard map. However, the Persona Toolbox let me easily modify the session and reset the keyboard layout to the predefined IBM 5250 layout. Several differences existed between each emulation type's characteristics. For example, the Java applet and standalone Java application permitted dynamic screen resizing, but the WTC application didn't. All the controls let me customize keyboard layouts and screen colors.

The clients always connected through a Persona Insight server proxy (i.e., port 1916 or port 1917). Channeling all traffic through the Web server caused a barely noticeable delay in emulation performance but also encrypted all host-server connections. By default, Persona Insight used 56-bit 3DES for a secure emulation session. The product's default X.509 certificate made setting up the initial secure connection easy.

The documentation on the CD-ROM consisted of .pdf files, and Persona Toolbox provided online Help in Windows Help format. The product's 50-page Getting Started manual provided the information that I needed to set up and use Persona Insight.

Overall, Persona Insight was easy to set up and use. The product was noticeably simpler than some of the other products in this review: Persona Insight lacked the ability to centrally monitor host connections and provided no way to secure host connections on a per-user basis. However, Persona Insight provided the most easily established secure host connection of all the products I reviewed.

Persona Insight 4.3
Contact: Persoft * 608-273-6000 or 800-368-5283
Web: http://www.persoft.com/
Price: Contact vendor for pricing
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy installation; easy setup for secure client connections
Cons: No central monitoring capabilities

RUMBA 2000 Web-to-Host
NetManage recently acquired Wall Data's RUMBA 2000 Web-to-Host, which provides 3270 and 5250 terminal and printer emulation as well as extensive asynchronous terminal emulations (e.g., VT100, VT220, VT320, VT420, Tektronix 4010, HP 700/92, HP 2392A). RUMBA 2000 also provides support for FTP and IND$FILE transfers. The product doesn't run code on the Web server, so you can use the product on a Web server running IIS, Netscape Enterprise Server, or Apache Web Server. The client requires JDK 1.1 support, which is available in IE 4.0 or later and Netscape Navigator 4.07 or later, or you can run Netscape Navigator 4.06 or 4.04 if you apply the JDK 1.1 patch.

RUMBA 2000 provides three host connectivity options: Web-to-Host Java, Web-to-Host Express, and Web-to-Host Pro. Web-to-Host Java is a pair of Java applets that provide terminal and printer emulation; Web-to-Host Express and Web-to-Host Pro are both ActiveX controls. The main difference between these components is the required client footprint and the emulation session capabilities. On one end of the continuum, the Java client requires no client footprint and provides basic terminal emulation features. At the other end, the Web-to-Host Pro client requires about 3MB of client disk space but provides all the high-end emulation features of a standalone host terminal emulation package, including custom keyboard mapping, HLLAPI support, and keyboard macro recording and playback.

This product was the easiest to install of all the products. The product CD-ROM's Autorun file automatically launched the RUMBA 2000 setup program. During installation, the setup program prompted me to install the RUMBA 2000 Web-to-Host files in the Web server's root Web directory (i.e., the C:\inetpub\wwwroot directory by default). The installation took about 2 minutes.

Configuration was as easy as installation. The setup program added a Start menu link to the Web-to-Host sessions Configuration Manager. Clicking the link displayed the RUMBA 2000 Session Configuration Manager, which has a wizardlike interface that guided me through the configuration process. The first step required me to select the type of host interface that I wanted to provide and the RUMBA component (i.e., implementation) that I wanted to use for host connectivity, as Figure 7 shows.

I tested each of RUMBA 2000's connectivity options. All options worked well and provided good terminal and printer emulation capabilities. However, the options lacked central monitoring and the ability to establish a secure connection. The Web-to-Host Java applet took 7 to 8 seconds to download and connect—a bit more time than some of the other products. Web-to-Host Express and Web-to-Host Pro performed a one-time-only download and installation of the ActiveX control to the Web client. Web-to-Host Express downloaded and installed in about 10 seconds; Web-to-Host Pro took about 25 seconds. Subsequent connections were almost instantaneous.

All the components provided dynamically resizable emulation windows. Unfortunately, RUMBA 2000 provided only direct client-to-host connections and didn't provide any centralized session monitoring or security mechanisms. Identical documentation in both HTML and PDF format included an index for easy cross-reference.

Overall, RUMBA 2000 provided the most flexibility and the highest-quality terminal and printer emulation. The product let me easily create and configure emulation sessions but lacked the monitoring and reporting functions of several other reviewed products. The product also lacked the ability to encrypt the data stream between the Web client and the host server; this deficiency made the product better suited to intranet use than to Internet use.

RUMBA 2000 Web-to-Host
Contact: NetManage * 408-973-7171 or 800-487-8622
Web: http://www.netmanage.com/
Price: Starts at $150 per user
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy installation and configuration; excellent emulation options and capabilities
Cons: No security or central-monitoring capabilities

WebSphere Host On-Demand 4.0
Of all the products in this review, WebSphere Host On-Demand (originally marketed under IBM's SecureWay product group) supported the widest array of servers (e.g., NT, AIX, OS/2, Novell NetWare, Sun Solaris, HP-UX, OS/400, OS/390). Host On-Demand supports 3270 and 5250 terminal and printer emulation and VT52, VT100, and VT220 terminal emulations. File-transfer support includes IND$FILE and OS/400 IFS file transfers, as well as an SQL-based Database On-Demand feature for host-to-client database transfers. A set of Java applets provides the core host terminal and printer emulation. I tested the NT version, which supports Web servers running NT 4.0 SP3 and IIS 4.0 or later. Web clients must run IE 4.01 SP1 or later or Netscape Navigator 4.08 or later.

WebSphere Host On-Demand consists of the Administration Utility, Certificate Management, Certificate Wizard, and Host Access Toolkit components. Administration Utility is a Java applet that you can use to start the Host On-Demand Services. The product includes two NT services: an Express service that you can use for direct connections and a Redirector service that you can use for secured proxy connections. You can use the Administration Utility to create users and groups and to configure sessions. Certificate Management and Certificate Wizard create and manage certificates for SSL sessions. Host Access Toolkit is a set of JavaBeans that you can use to customize session displays.

Installation was one of the quickest and easiest of all the products' processes. The included Autorun file automatically launched the installation when I inserted the CD-ROM into the drive. The installation process installed the Express service and the Redirector service. When the installation was complete, the program prompted me to manually stop and restart the Web server. The product didn't create Virtual Directories on the Web server. Instead, I needed to manually create a Virtual Directory that pointed to the \hostondemand\HOD directory, which the installation process created. After the WebSphere Host On-Demand installation, the product added Host On-Demand Express service as an autostart NT service.

Configuration was also easy. To configure the server, I downloaded Administration Utility. When I ran the applet, it prompted me to use the default administrator password to log on. Next, I set up the users, groups, and sessions that needed host access. WebSphere Host On-Demand doesn't integrate its users and groups with NT's users and groups, so I needed to use Administration Utility, which Figure 8 shows, to create the users and groups. Every user must belong to at least one group, so I created groups first. The product uses groups to define the session types and configuration attributes that will be available for the users in that group. When you define a user for more than one group, the user inherits all the defined sessions for all groups. After I defined the groups, I configured the emulation sessions for each group.

The product provides full-featured terminal emulation through a Java applet. Emulation sessions appear in an independent browser session; to launch the sessions, you can point the client Web browser to a URL in the HOD directory or you can embed a link in a Web page. Connecting to the WebSphere Host On-Demand Web server and downloading the applet took only about 4 seconds. The product supplied cached and downloadable applet versions. In my environment, I couldn't determine a time difference between the two versions, but with a slower WAN link you might prefer the cached applet. The emulation provided all the features I expect in a single-function desktop product (e.g., dynamic screen resizing, custom keyboard maps, custom screen colors, support for macros) as well as the product's Host Access Library (HACL) programming interface.

When you use the Redirector service, the product uses SSL to support secure client connections. The product's ability to implement client-only session security, host-only security, or both client- and host-session security is particularly useful. Although the Express service's direct connection was easy to open, setting up a secure connection with the Redirector service was significantly more difficult, and finding the secure-connection requirements in the documentation was a time-consuming chore. In addition, when I used the product's Certificate Wizard to create a self-signed certificate, the product returned a class error.

The product's documentation was in the form of HTML Help files, which were plentiful but lacking in quality. However, I did find a good IBM Redbook, IBM SecureWay Host On-Demand 4.0: Enterprise Communications in the Era of Network Computing, that provided important product background, setup, and configuration information.

In spite of struggling a few times with the implementation, I rate WebSphere Host On-Demand as an excel-lent product. Its support for both direct and secure proxy connections and the quality of the emulation software are strong points in the product's favor. Of the reviewed products, WebSphere Host On-Demand provided the best combination of flexibility, security, and ease of use.

WebSphere Host On-Demand 4.0
Contact: IBM * 914-499-1900 or 800-426-4968
Web: http://www.ibm.com/
Price: $199
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy installation and configuration; excellent emulation capabilities; client and host sessions security; SQL-based file transfer
Cons: Weak documentation

Winsurf Mainframe Access 2.5
ICOM Informatics' Winsurf Mainframe Access (WMA) 2.5 provides a full range of host server access options. In addition to providing Web-to-host connectivity through a Web browser, WMA provides standard Windows-based host terminal emulation. WMA provided the widest range of terminal support of any of the reviewed products. WMA supports 3270 terminal and printer emulation and 5250 terminal emulation but doesn't provide 5250 printer emulation. The product also supports VT100, VT220, and VT320 emulations; Bull 7102, Bull 7107, and Bull 7800 terminal and printer emulations; and FTP, IND$FILE, Kermit, XMODEM, YMODEM, and ZMODEM file transfers. Unlike many of the products in this review, WMA doesn't use Java to provide terminal emulation; instead, the product uses either ActiveX controls for IIS or server-based HTML data-stream conversion. WMA requires a Web server running NT 4.0 and IIS 3.0 or later with ASP extensions. Web clients need IE 3.02a or later or Netscape Navigator Communicator 3.3 or later.

WMA consists of WMA Administrator, WMA Server Manager, WMA Client Manager, and WMA Security Server. You can use WMA Administrator to add users and groups, configure host connections, and associate the available host services with the users and groups. You can use WMA Server Manager to add and remove WMA server components and change the number of licenses. You can use WMA Client Manager to add and remove emulation and file-transfer components that the clients use. WMA Security Server acts as a proxy agent to establish secure client-to-host connections across the Internet.

Installation was simple. When I inserted the CD-ROM into the Web server, an Autorun file launched the product's setup routine. Then, the installation prompted me to choose WMA server-based setup or a local setup, which I could use to install standard Windows-based terminal emulation onto a client system. I chose the server installation, then specified the target directory. The WMA installation automatically stopped IIS, created a virtual Web directory that pointed to the product's installation location, then restarted IIS.

Configuration required little effort. I configured the product entirely using the browser-based WMA Administrator, which Figure 9 shows. I accessed the tool through the Web server Start menu. WMA Administrator provides a good set of instructions for connecting to the host server, and I used the supplied configuration wizards to establish an active initial connection from the Web server to my AS/400 host in a matter of minutes. The basic configuration process consisted of importing users and groups from NT's SAM database and associating them with the various emulation services that I configured. Each emulation service represents the combination of an emulation type and the emulation's host-configuration values. After I created the configurations, I simply pointed the client Web browser to the appropriate URL. By default, the product provided a wma.asp URL that I used to access the ActiveX-based emulation component and a jitr.htm URL that I used to access the HTML-conversion emulation. The ActiveX-based emulation was vastly superior to the HTML emulation. The ActiveX control downloaded and connected in only 2 to 3 seconds and provided full-featured terminal emulation, which let me use dynamic screen resizing, customize keyboard layout and screen colors, and run connection scripts. Although workable, the HTML-based emulation displayed the host screen in a fixed size and was noticeably slower than its ActiveX counterpart. In many cases, I needed to use the mouse to perform standard keyboard operations such as paging down.

WMA provided a handy browser-based monitoring tool that I invoked by pointing my client Web browser to the monitor.asp page in the WMA Virtual Directory. The monitor displayed session statistics and updated them about every 10 seconds; the statistics showed the user, IP address, connect time, and a connection cost that the product calculated from a price table associated with each configured emulation service.

WMA Security Server is a proxy agent that resides on the Web server and provides session security using either SSL or a default X.509 certificate. The WMA Security Server encrypts the data stream between the Web server and the client.

The product supplied documentation and online Help in a variety of formats. The primary documentation was in PDF, whereas the server's online Help primarily used Windows Help files.

Overall, WMA was complete and easy to use, but dialog boxes that occasionally displayed in French surprised me. Overall, the product was easy to install and configure. However, the product added at least 16 entries to NT's Add/Remove programs option, so I had difficulty uninstalling the product.

Winsurf Mainframe Access 2.5
Contact: ICOM Informatics * 512-335-8200 or 800-351-4244
Web: http://www.icominfo.com/
Price: Starts at $183 per concurrent user; quantity discounts available
Decision Summary:
Pros: Broad host support; includes standalone Windows emulation
Cons: Some dialogs displayed in French

Corrections to this Article:

  • Table 1 in Lab Reports: "Heavenly Host: Web-to-Host Product Roundup" (August 2000) contains incorrect information about IBM's WebSphere Host On-Demand 4.0. The product supports both Netscape Enterprise Server and Apache Web Server. We apologize for any inconvenience this error might have caused.
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