Thursday, June 5, 2014

Do you know where your wires run? Safely navigating network changes with uLinga!

Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell, opens up on future role for uLinga as HP elects to let the SWANs go …
One of the downsides to switching between cars is that the interfaces, important for us to safely drive the car, all seem to change. Sure, the gas pedal is next to the brake pedal but I challenge anyone to jump into an unfamiliar ride and then turn on the headlights or activate the windscreen wipers. As for the navigation and entertainment ‘centers’ then my only response is, “good luck!”

As much as the automobile industry has advanced, and safety today is unquestionably better than it ever has been, there’s still that sense of bewilderment when we take a quick look at all that’s been provided to help us. Nothing is truly standard between manufacturers, and I’m certain I will see little change on this front for as long as I continue to drive cars.

Standards, particularly those to do with interaction, have always been a stalwart of computers and with communications in particular. Pick up any communications programming guide and immediately the language jumps out at you – it may look foreign at first but to any communications programmer, no matter the product, they quickly resort to terms in a universal manner. And nowhere is this more apparent than when any programmer faces the daunting challenge of communicating with applications running on IBM mainframes.

The communications protocols and services needed to successfully connect with mainframes are decades old. They enjoy a rich history of stoically allowing, and indeed protecting, IBM mainframe applications access from client devices of all types. While the world completed a transition to TCP/IP long ago, and developing a new application using sockets is commonplace, when it comes to the mainframe, even though today it too can easily access TCP/IP, when it comes to the actual protocol application programs rely on, they are far removed from TCP/IP and owe their roots to IBM’s SNA.

This too remains true of the protocols used over the wire – whether the device interface is 3270 and the wire protocol is SDLC or perhaps X.25 – life goes on for many mainframe applications even as everything around them has changed. The mainframe today is every bit as TCP/IP centric as any other server, but more often than not the LAN oriented TCP/IP networks in place are being used to transport formerly WAN oriented communications traffic.

Have SDLC, X.25, and even BiSync protocols gone away completely? It turns out that while the underlying protocols that make the relevant communications protocol “stack” are long gone – protocol convertors, encapsulation and tunneling have all helped keep alive technologies everyone thought irrelevant, for the most part, and even today, “behaving like a 3270 terminal” makes sense to programmers. It’s all about the trillion dollar investment in solutions and even as they may change in a different world, the business logic captured within their code stays relevant and trundles along unaware of what the interface being used.

For a very long time HP NonStop systems have provided strong support for both WAN and LAN protocols ,for decades. However, when it comes to the older WAN protocols the end of the line is fast approaching, and for good reason. The hardware needed to support WAN is simply proving too costly to retain and solutions that can support WAN oriented interfaces over LAN solutions are becoming commonplace. The wires from your desktop may run to a plug in the wall but whereto after that?

This was the basis for the message conveyed in a recent posting in the eNewsletter, Tandemworld, by comForte marketing head, Thomas Gloerfeld. “HP recently started to announce the End of Sales of the SWAN2 box which is used by many to connect devices to HP NonStop systems using SNAX, X25 and other protocols”, Gloerfeld said. However, he also noted that “While SWAN2 boxes will be at least supported until June 2017 according to the HP NonStop Hardware Maintenance List (available on the HP NonStop website in the ‘Product' section’), maybe now is the time to look for alternatives.”

More importantly, while not being alarmist and fully cognizant of HP NonStop product management’s timeframes for the end of SWAN2, Gloerfeld did reiterate the message now being conveyed to the NonStop community – use this announcement to accelerate your plans to bring in-house alternative solutions. In presentations made in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, HP has already begun pitching how firstly, there will be “no direct replacement, (it’s) the end of an era” and that the NonStop community still relying on WAN protocols formerly associated with IBM’s SNA, to “consider the uLinga product using Ethernet and TCP/IP”.

 “The recommendation by HP is to consider uLinga, if you are a current SWAN user,” said Infrasoft Managing Director, Peter Shell, the vendor responsible for developing uLinga. Shell then said, it “doesn’t come as a surprise to Infrasoft. We have been aware that we were being considered to provide such a SWAN2 replacement and certainly, we are encouraged with what we are now seeing appear in the latest HP NonStop presentations.”

“There are many considerations to be made once you look to replace SWANs,” added Shell. “If you currently depend upon SWANs to support SDLC lines then we have a solution right out of the box with uLinga for (Data Link Switching) DLSw. If the line terminates not at a terminal but at a system such as an IBM mainframe then perhaps uLinga for EE is a better fit. If you rely on SWANs for X25 then give us a call as it’s on our roadmap and we will deliver to meet any critical timeline a NonStop user may have.”

With these presentations from HP NonStop it may encourage NonStop users to more aggressively pursue an all IP network solution. As Shell observed, with this latest news about SWANS, “this might be a good time to move to a completely native IP communications using the uLinga for CICS / uLinga for IMS products – and with uLinga there’s still no requirement to change your applications.”

Not everyone in the NonStop community will be considering a SWAN replacement strategy, but where they are uLinga is now a well-established product line with implementation in all regions of the world. Gaining the recommendation of HP NonStop Product Management as the alternative to SWAN2 is a well deserved honor and the likely impact of this news coming from HP cannot be underestimated.

Standards are good to have but I sure wish I was confident enough to say that I knew how to turn on the headlights of any car. When it comes to communications it’s still the solutions on mainframes that dictate what’s needed and the interfaces and services that originated with communications architectures decades ago will continue to dictate simple connectivity. TCP/IP may be in everyone’s network but what flows across these networks includes many things apart from native TCP/IP, and that will remain a reality, I am certain, for as long as I continue in IT. 

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