e-Vantage clears host-access hurdles

e-Vantage clears host-access hurdles

Breaking down the barriers for users to access host-based data and applications is a challenge - particularly when you consider the security risks and manageability problems. Attachmate's recently released e-Vantage solution, a newly packaged upgrade to its HostView Server 2.0, however, is an appealing Web-to-host suite of applications that addresses many of these concerns.

The core component, Host Access Server 2.1, offers features similar to many of its competitors. Its closest competitor, IBM, also provides an integrated solution - e-Network Host Integration Solution.

Both solutions have much in common - where one falls short, the other picks up - putting them in a close race with one another. For example, e-Network Host On-Demand 3.0 supports a variety of server platforms and is appealing in terms of its overall cost. Host Access Server is limited to Windows NT Server (and Microsoft's Internet Information Server) and it can be expensive, depending on which type of clients are purchased.

But as with HostView Server, Host Access Server includes a Windows NT-based Systems Network Architecture gateway and Aventail VPN Server 2.6 with AutoSOCKS client. The IBM solution doesn't offer a VPN component.

Customising applications

Particularly notable in this release is the added Host Session Services. This feature lets your end users work with GUI-based custom applications directly from the server. These custom applications are written in popular rapid application development tools such as Visual Basic, Visual C++, Delphi, PowerBuilder, and others.

Using the provided Enterprise Access Class Library (which consists of ActiveX COM objects and Java components), developers can create rejuvenated front ends for the host data and applications.

However, to create custom applications, you'll need to purchase the e-Vantage Software Development Kit (SDK) 2.0 for $US495: Those who own the previous Extra! Objects SDK can upgrade for $148.

Compared to IBM's solution, the e-Vantage SDK is well worth the money. It goes well beyond IBM's equivalent component by offering extensive online and print-based help (in PDF format), including abundant sample code and a complete reference on how to use the Enterprise Access Class Library.

Unlike IBM's SDK for Host On-Demand, however, it doesn't yet address developing custom applications using Java - although this support should be available shortly.

Like its predecessor, Host Access Server runs on Windows NT Server 4.0 and requires Internet Information Server 3.0 (or later). Installation was very simple. I was up and running in no time. Although currently limited to Windows NT Server, Host Access Server will support Unix and other Web servers later this year.

The most notable problem I experienced was the incapability to run both Host Viewer Services and Host Session Services on the same server: they must run separately due to the design of the server. Fortunately, you don't need to purchase an additional server licence. Hopefully, Attachmate will change this in upcoming releases.

Flexible WebViews

To provide host-access sessions to end users, you'll use the Management Console - a Web page on the server - to create host-session configurations or custom application configurations if the server is configured to run Host Session Services. Then you'll create WebViews: these appear as links on the Client Access page that is displayed when users log on to a Host Access Server with a Windows NT user account.

In the event a user account doesn't exist, selecting the recipients link lets you create one in the Windows NT Directory - a particularly helpful capability for remote administration.

The type of WebViews a user can access is dependent on which client access licence is purchased. You can purchase both Standard and Enterprise Client Access Licenses (CALs) that provide varying levels of access. For example, the Enterprise licences let users access both Host Viewer Services and Host Session Services, but those using Standard licences are limited to Host Viewer Services.

Like many Web-to-host products, Host Access Server offers thin-client access to host systems by delivering ActiveX or Java-based emulator viewers through the browser. These viewers support TN3270E, TN5250, and VT420 emulation display sessions - including mainframe print sessions.

Compared to IBM's Java-based emulator viewer - which provides a bevy of features such as macros, copy/paste text and hot spots - 2e-Vantage's viewer is very basic, doesn't let you select text, and doesn't provide macro capabilities.

When launching ActiveX-based WebViews (which appear as links on the Client Access page) from within Internet Explorer 4.01, more features are available, however. For example, I could select and copy text to the clipboard, integrate functions from the menu bar, and create a desktop shortcut that automatically launches an emulation session. Of course, your users will want to use this feature with caution, because anyone could walk up to the computer, bypass security, and launch the shortcut.

Session configuration

When administrators create a session configuration (which may use ActiveX or Java), they must create WebViews based on the session configuration. Afterwards, WebViews are assigned to users or user groups (within the Windows NT Directory). When the user logs in to the Client Access page, a list of assigned WebViews appears.

When using Netscape Communicator, it's best to select WebViews that use a Java session configuration because Communicator cannot natively use ActiveX controls without a plug-in. In all, using Internet Explorer 4.01 with Service Pack 1 to view the Web sessions was better than using Netscape Communicator.

I was also unable to authenticate to Windows NT Domain security (when enabling NT's Challenge/Response authentication) when viewing sessions with Communicator. According to the documentation, I needed to download and install Microsoft's Netscape Authentication Proxy. This fix didn't work, however, with Communicator 4.5 - I had to disable this method of authentication in order to test with Communicator.

A good start

In all, Attachmate's e-Vantage solution offers plenty of features and flexibility for making host data available to a variety of users. Unfortunately, it's still rough around the edges. Although I liked the new Host Sessions Services, it's currently limited to Microsoft's Component Object Model and ActiveX technology.

I also would have liked the capability to track all users currently running both custom application sessions and standard emulator viewer sessions: Host Session Services is the only part of the package that tracks concurrent usage.

According to International Data Group, Web-to-host installations will grow significantly during the next few years. There are many excellent choices available, but if your shop is primarily Windows-based, e-Vantage is definitely worth considering. If, however, you're running Netscape Enterprise Server or other Web servers on Unix, for example, you may want to consider IBM's solution.

The Bottom Line

e-Vantage Host Access Server 2.1

This Web-to-host solution is a comprehensive package that makes host data easily and securely accessible for a wide range of users.

Pros: Easy deployment and administration; well-integrated companion products; offers standard and custom application interfaces to host data; comprehensive SDK available.

Cons: Pricey; can't run all services on the same system; lacks Java development support and activity logging; limited metering capabilities and troubleshooting tools.

Platforms: Server: Windows NT Server 4.0 with Internet Information Server 3.0 or later; Client: Internet Explorer, Netscape Communicator.

Price: Not yet available.

Attachmate Tel (03) 9694 6711

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