A new consulting service from Attachmate Corp. gives mainframe applications a wider audience by making handheld devices using Palm OS or Windows CE function as terminals for remote data collection and viewing. The service, called PalmFrame, is the first packaged solution to tie big-iron hosts directly to the tiny wireless devices.
PC Week Labs\\\' tests of a demonstration application developed by the consulting group showed that the technology could provide substantial business advantage by unchaining more employees from their desks and providing access to up-to-date information from the field.
The service, which rolled out last month, makes use of Attachmate\\\'s e-Vantage HostPublishing System for converting data-crammed, character-based terminal screens into multiple graphical screens suited to small-format devices. Users must be equipped with AvantGo Inc.\\\'s AvantGo Palm Client installed on their Palm PC or Windows CE handheld. AvantGo\\\'s Enter prise 3 Server functions as a proxy for the handhelds, accessing the back-end system while facilitating handheld administration and data synchronization.
The PalmFrame service combines two tried-and-tested products—HostPublishing System and the AvantGo Server—adding integration between the two via APIs to ensure smooth and efficient communications. In addition, the service includes customization of the legacy host screens into HTML format suitable for handhelds.
One of Attachmate PalmFrame\\\'s biggest pluses is that buyers do not need to alter their host applications. In addition, the graphical format used in the handheld is intuitive, having none of the unfathomable host prompts and arcane field codes associated with mainframe interfaces.
For one-way transmission of data—from host to handheld—PalmFrame costs a flat $55,000 for all server software and application development labor for as many as 10 host-screen conversions. Hardware costs for the handhelds are about $350 to $500. The Attachmate-specific AvantGo Palm Client licenses are priced at $150 apiece.
Transmitting data back to the host is another matter. Because many variables are involved, the price is negotiated customer by customer. In addition, Attachmate\\\'s engineers will likely need substantially more time to develop applications than the two weeks projected for read-only apps.
PalmFrame is not the only way to skin this particular rabbit. One alternative is to buy notebook PCs for mobile users. Notebooks can input and output data from remote locations, but their hardware costs are much higher than those for the Attachmate solution, and the portability and durability of notebooks cannot match those of environment-tailored handhelds.
Another option is to replicate the PalmFrame solution by building a system combining the AvantGo Server with another Web application server that converts back-end server screens into HTML pages. IBM\\\'s WebSphere application server or Esker US Inc.\\\'s Corridor would suit such a setup.
However, programming the application would require considerable expertise in extracting data from legacy hosts and handling error conditions. In addition, even if another Web application server provides a rich API for developers, it probably won\\\'t match the extensive API sharing that Attachmate and AvantGo have undertaken to ensure tight integration.
Contributing Editor Ken Phillips can be contacted at email@example.com.