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Support: North Ridge Reports

NRS Software Development

Originally published: Winter 1996

You may have thought that North Ridge Software was in the software business. In reality we are in the guessing business where the reward comes from making the right guess. Sometimes customers are able to indicate a need that we may be able to meet. More often though we need to identify opportunities prior to any customers being aware that they even have a need for such a capability. How are we able to do that, you may ask? Sorry, it is a corporate secret, but we can share with you how one of our guesses was successful.

The Network Center began as a concept (without even a name) in the early part of 1988. It started as a list of desirable functions that would be useful for technicians who were responsible for operating large VTAM networks. The idea was to capitalize on the experience and expertise we had gained in developing a prior lucky guess (software product) called The Network Director.

As time and technical resources became available a research and development project (a trial and error experiment) was begun to identify an approach that would allow these capabilities to be delivered in a way that would be attractive to potential customers (that is, they would be willing to buy them). After a few unproductive approaches were tried and discarded, a powerful and flexible system architecture was identified and progress was more rapid. The first of the product components, called Query, was developed to test our approach. Query was designed to allow a technical user to examine and interpret the contents of the VTAM address space and to display the results in a series of CUA (Common User Access) compatible panels on the user's workstation. This approach was adopted so that VTAM storage could be readily accessed with minimal impact on the executing VTAM system.

Success with Query lead to the development of several other components based on VTAM's Session Management Exit (SME) capabilities which were also delivered during this time. Access allowed the system administrator to determine which VTAM sessions would be allowed or denied within their VTAM domain. This function was controlled by a set of rules, based on session characteristics, that were defined on the administrators work station and then saved in a Network Data File. The rules were then loaded at execution time by an independent subtask operating within the VTAM address space (called The Network Server) and used to control the functioning of a full function SME supplied as part of the product. Access became increasingly important as more and more large VTAM customers began to establish connections to other sites outside of their organization and needed a way to ensure security within their own VTAM domain. One of our larger customers is currently using our product to control access to almost one hundred unique VTAM domains.

A related component, called Timeout, was developed at the same time. Timeout allowed the system administrator to control the amount of time that a terminal could be connected to the VTAM system, or remain idle, prior to being automatically disconnected from the system. Some other applications provided this capability but Timeout was the first to allow control on a system-wide basis. The termination of sessions is important not only for security reasons, so that unattended terminals do not remain logged on, but also to efficiently utilize scarce system resources (unattended sessions still consume a portion of the available system resources).

Testing for these product components began in mid-1990 with the subsequent release of Version 1.1.1 and the first signed contracts occurring in early 1991. These components have been continuously updated and enhanced to support additional releases of VTAM and to provide more powerful functionality.

Subsequent components of the Network Center were developed as a result of customer requests. The first of these, Alias, was developed at the request of an existing Network Center customer who needed an SNA connection to their parent corporation running a different VTAM network. Because of different naming conventions they had been forced to maintain large numbers of alias translation entries to resolve naming conflicts between the two systems. They were also suffering high overhead by using the translation function of Netview. Additional difficulties were caused by the inflexibility of this approach which only allowed one-to-one translation capabilities.

Alias was thus developed using a rule structure similar to the first two components that allowed Alias values to be assigned from a pool of values based upon the characteristics of the session partners. The implementation of Alias resulted in a sharp decrease in our customer's maintenance burden as well as greater flexibility by greatly reducing the coordination required when new devices were added on either side of the network boundary. Alias became generally available in the early part of 1994.

Select is the most recent addition to The Network Center. A customer needed to be able to balance session traffic between separate VTAM domains connected by more than one communication path. Select was expanded to handle not only the selection of local and remote Virtual Routes, but also Adjacent SSCPs, Adjacent Link Stations and Gateway paths resulting in total control over the routing and balancing of session traffic across the entire VTAM network. Select became available in the early part of 1996.

Would you like to suggest the next component of The Network Center (we have not yet exhausted our own original concept list) or should we keep on guessing?

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