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  1. Technology
November 26, 1998

NT MIGHT BE BETTER BET THAN UNIX FOR AS/400 TOOLSET

By CBR Staff Writer

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

AS/400 software houses who are looking to get into the Windows NT Server market, but who don’t want to learn ActiveX, Java or COM, may get an easier path to the lucrative NT market when UniComp starts shipping its Unibol400 AS/400 application rehosting environment for NT in the spring. It’s been a few years since UniComp first started selling its Unibol400 for Unix servers, and it says that it has proven the concept that AS/400 applications can be moved and rehosted on Unix machines without costly rewriting of applications. (Unibol has for nearly a decade sold System/36 emulation environments for Unix machines.) Unibol400 for Unix servers is essentially a middleware layer that lets RPG applications (having been recompiled under Unix using Unibol400 application development tools) run on top of an Oracle database, which itself has been fitted with a later of code that makes it look like IBM’s DB2/400 database that is built into the AS/400’s OS/400 operating system. They key to Unibol400 is that the environment supports a lot of the system functions built into OS/400 – program compilers, control languages, spool facilities and other features – that AS/400 software houses and their customers are used to. While Unibol400 falls short of being a complete OS/400 emulation, neither Unix customers who buy applications from vendors using Unibol400 (whether they know it or not) nor future NT customers who will follow them, care about what parts of OS/400 they are missing. All they know is they are buying a suite of applications that run on Unix or NT, and that is usually a more important criterion, right or wrong, than what other software is required on the system or where the underlying application code came from. Thus far, UniComp has sold Unibol400 to 30 AS/400 software houses who wanted to move their RPG and Cobol applications to Unix environments without having to learn C++ or to buy expensive CASE tools to create application frameworks and use code generators to crank out RPG code on AS/400s and C++ code on Unix machines. These ISVs just wanted to be able to sell their existing applications on Unix, not recreate the wheel, and apparently Unibol400 has done the trick. UniComp says that these ISVs in turn have many hundreds of customers using its Unibol400 code.

Get rich quick

UniComp, like many tool vendors and application vendors, hopes to get rich in the burgeoning NT market. And odds are, it is going to do better in NT than it has done in Unix. The price differential between Unix servers running Oracle and AS/400s running DB2 has never been as great as that between AS/400s and NT servers, nor has Unix ever enjoyed the kind of feeding frenzy momentum that NT is now experiencing. Unibol400 for NT was more or less finished in the labs in the third quarter of 1998 and in early December it will go into controlled beta. In the spring, Unibol400 for NT will ship to UniComp’s current 30 ISV customers as well as to a half dozen big enterprise customers, and soon thereafter it will be available for any AS/400 ISV or customer to purchase. Having tried to market Unibol400 for Unix directly to AS/400 customers in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard three years ago, UniComp is sticking to its current game plan of pushing sales of its software to ISVs, not directly to AS/400 customers. UniComp has learned the hard way with HP by its side how much AS/400 customers love their machines by trying to sell them, mostly unsuccessfully, an OS/400 application environment running on Unix. As it stands, Unibol400 for Unix supports Oracle7 and Oracle8 on IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems Unix servers; the NT implementation will come out running on top of Oracle8, but UniComp is taking a hard look at support Microsoft’s just announced SQL Server 7.0 data base as well. UniComp techies say that SQL Server 6.5 was not up to snuff with DB2/400, and that is why it hasn’t been working on support for the Microsoft DBMS concurrent with Oracle. UniComp hasn’t released list prices for the Unibol400 program, but says that it expects to charge ISVs $500 to $600 per seat for the application suites they sell to NT customers once they have ported their RPG and Cobol code to Unibol400. That’s about 15% cheaper than the Unix implementation costs. The beauty of Unibol400, and one of its major selling points, is that it hosts AS/400 applications while at the same time as allowing them to be augmented with Microsoft Windows technology, which is one of the reasons why UniComp was recently named a Microsoft solution provider. Customers can use NT’s TCP/IP, DNS and DHCP protocols to link the code running in Unibol400 to other network resources as well as using Systems Management Server for management and Exchange for email and groupware while retaining the underlying AS/400 applications. Similarly, native Oracle applications can be run side-by-side with the Unibol400 apps. Moreover, the 5250 Connect telnet server (an optional program for Unibol400) allows any of the popular AS/400 screen scraper programs like those available from Wall Data, WRQ, Seagull and others to be used to link PCs with the AS/400 applications running inside the Unibol400 environment.

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