Mainframes and the desktop: Bridging the gap

There’s a perception among the general public, not to mention a surprising number of tech journalists, that mainframes belong in a long-ago yesterday.

In fact, the truth is quite different. Mainframes are still highly relevant, and will stay that way well into the foreseeable future.

Mainframes stay mainstream

The funny thing is that today’s computing reality actually needs mainframes at least as much as yesterday’s did — probably more! For example, smartphone apps typically consult distant mainframes for whatever information you’re seeking. Moreover, numerous enterprises not only have decades’ worth of data on their mainframe, but also are adding to that storage every minute.

So, if mainframes will stick around, how can they most readily integrate with everything else? What happens when ordinary PCs in today’s Web-enabled workplace must “talk” to the office mainframe and work with its data?

One answer is terminal emulation software. As the name implies, it acts like a mainframe’s classic terminal interface. This lets you access the mainframe’s applications and data via your PC, just as if you were sitting at a mainframe terminal.

It matters where it lives

So far, so good; you can view, and use, mainframe apps and data from the comfort of your everyday PC. However, depending on the specific emulation product, deployment can be a big, hairy deal for your IT department. It also can be a big, hairy, expensive deal for your CFO.

Here are some of the potential problems:

  • PC-by-PC — You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s like being nibbled to death by a duck.” That pretty much sums up how your IT department feels when it has to install and support a given application on a desktop-by-desktop, PC-by-PC basis. It’s even more problematic in today’s telecommuting-driven reality, when many people work entirely from home. So, if the chosen terminal emulation product is installed and updated one-by-one, that’s plenty of added work for IT.
  • Managing macros — A similar drawback lies in the common need for macros — programmed keystrokes that perform recorded sequences of commands. Macros are particularly useful with terminal emulation. But if every user has his or her own unique macros, that’s still another thing IT must try to manage. (Imagine if a user forgets any of the macros or loses his cheat-sheet for them!)
  • Licensing costs — You usually buy enterprise software through licensing the number of users for the product. Some terminal emulation products require you to buy enough licenses to cover all the desktops which might use the product, no matter how many of them really will. As a result, that wastes a lot of money over time. Also, just as in the case of PC-by-PC software, it’s more difficult for IT to setup and maintain.

A better way to get there

With all these potential flies in the ointment, then, what’s a better way to access all the goodies on the mainframe? We feel your best bet is to use an emulation software product that:

  • Is server-based — Rather than the “duck-nibbling” desktop-by-desktop approach, your emulation software choice should live on a server that the terminal users can access. That provides centralized management which greatly simplifies things for IT, both when it’s time to install the software and when it needs updates.
  • Is browser-based — With the terminal emulation process occurring on a server, your company can then give each user access to the mainframe through a Web browser. (Of course, it must work well with the browser of choice. We’ll address that shortly.) This simplifies interaction with the mainframe. It also can facilitate access from anywhere — usually through a virtual private network (VPN) — and via a wide choice of devices, including compact tablets.
  • Has centralized macros — The server-based approach has another benefit: it means the macros also live in one place, accessible by all users. It’s much easier for IT when each macro means the same thing regardless of who’s using it.
  • Has concurrent user licensing — With concurrent user licensing, you pay for only the number of simultaneous users you know you’ll actually have. Moreover, the licensing “cares” about only how many PCs, not which PCs, are accessing the mainframe. If you’ve paid for 25 licenses, it doesn’t matter who those 25 simultaneous users are. This gives you much more flexibility regarding access to the mainframe.

Some additional recommendations

We also highly recommend that you select terminal emulation software with these additional advantages:

  • SSO — Why have to enter a user ID and password for each separate mainframe application you access? Single sign-on (SSO) lets you authenticate just once per session to get into all applicable mainframe applications.
  • End-to-end security — The mountains of data on your mainframe require the highest security. Your terminal emulation must maintain that security, end-to-end, in four levels: application, session, transport, and host.
  • Various client options — Enterprises’ IT departments often must limit their users’ choices of Web browsers and versions thereof. For that reason, your browser-based terminal emulation software should come in a variety of clients. If so, your emulation software will be compatible with what you use. It won’t matter whether you’re on a Java®-supporting legacy platform or the latest-and-greatest, HTML 5-savvy browser and version.
  • Portal integration compatibility — Your IT team may want to integrate the emulation software with a custom mainframe portal. In that case, the software should be compatible with industry standards such as EHLLAPI and, for environments using Java, JHLLAPI.

Want more information about these and other benefits of this approach to mainframe terminal emulation? Visit our website to learn about our WebConnect productWebConnect is among many reasons why mainframes will remain very much alive and relevant for quite some time to come.

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