will also tell you that it's standard government policy to broaden public access as much as possible. "Our books are open," said William Kilmartin, comptroller for the state of Massachusetts, explaining why his office is exploiting the Internet to access mainframe data. "We believe that people other than state employees should have access to government data."
Kilmartin cited other reasons why there's so much interest in using the Internet to access legacy data. The Internet offers Web browser technology, which is easy for nontechnical people to use, and delivers tremendous economies of scale. Right now, it's the most cost-effective way to make data accessible to as much of the public as possible. The Internet also is fast-becoming the infrastructure for electronic commerce, overtaking electronic data interchange and other computerized means of transacting business.
Web access to legacy data is still in its infancy. In 1996, sales of Web-to-legacy tools totaled just $35 million, according to International Data Corp. Industry experts and users of Web-to-legacy products say the market is fast-moving, however. New products are entering the market all the time, while existing development tools undergo major revisions every 12 months.
For the uninitiated, the process of choosing the right tool for the right job can be bewildering. Vendors are also apt to mislead customers, warned Stuart Greenfield, a systems analyst for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Greenfield has been working on Web-to-legacy projects for nearly two years. "You have to make sure the vendor's products can do what they say they can do," he said.
One tool that has performed well for Greenfield is a product called Amazon, from Intelligent Environments. He used Amazon to create a Web application that links a CICS transaction system running on an IBM mainframe to a search form on a browser. Banks and auditing firms that want to check on the franchise tax status of companies doing business in Texas can now use their browser to search -- in minutes -- for company financial data that once took state employees a tremendous amount of time to locate.
Except for IBM, a quick look at the leading Web-to-legacy software vendors reveals they are not household names. A cluster of small firms on the industry's top tier list include Wall Data, Attachmate, OpenConnect Systems, Centura Software, Apertus Technologies and Simware.
Another relatively obscure tool is Corridor from Tuebner & Associates. Corridor is a Web-to-mainframe software translator product that allows Web browsers to appear as 3270/5250 terminals to host mainframe systems. BDM International is using it, along with Sapphire/Web, a development tool from Bluestone Software, to build a Web-to-legacy application for the state of Montana. Tor Gudmundsen, project manager for BDM, said that the choice of Web-to-legacy tools has improved. "When we started, it was hard to predict where the market was headed. Today, things are better; the graphics have improved dramatically."
One reason why states are hopping on the Web-to-legacy bandwagon is the fact that applications residing on legacy systems and accessed through terminals have a lot in common with Web applications. Both have thin clients, so merging the two is not that tough.
In general, there are three approaches to merging the Web with terminal applications:
* On-the-fly conversion of terminal applications to HTML;
* Delivery of actual terminal sessions within a Web page; and
* Application servers that broker data transfers between the Web and host applications.
Some approaches are faster than others, but overall, developing the Web-to-legacy applications is not that difficult, as long as you use the right tools for the right job. Some organizations prefer to use Java, the programming language, for merging intranet applications with legacy data and conversion tools for Internet applications. Trouble occurs when bells and whistles are added to the mix, such as hardware components