Gentran – Simple, Visible, but time to change?

With evolving market conditions accelerating the need for advanced EDI and B2B integration capabilities, we can’t help but ask:

  • Is your EDI solution the most cost-effective one available for a low volume company?
  • Is your EDI Solution vulnerable to ransomware attacks?
  • Do you have sufficient development and support coverage when identifying EDI issues or have new partner onboarding requirements?

In order to evaluate these three important questions, we need to examine the history of the three main ‘on premise EDI Solutions’ available from IBM under the Sterling brand.

Many enterprises rely on one of the three ‘on-premise’ based EDI solutions that IBM currently offers under the Sterling Brand.

  • ITX Advanced,
  • IBM B2Bi (originally Gentran Integration Server) and
  • Gentran for Windows / Gentran Director.

ITX Advanced

Originally called SPE (Standards Processing Engine), ITX Advanced was an offshoot from B2Bi. It took the EDI processing engine within B2Bi and married this up with an updated XSLT mapping tool and integrated another tool WTX (WebSphere Translator, now called ITX). An excellent combination, that unfortunately had very little traction in the supply chain market. The failing was possibly because of the added requirement to send and receive the files for processing. ITX Advanced is therefore more beneficial for specialised applications or part of a wider set of tools.

IBM B2Bi (originally Gentran Integration Server)

IBM B2Bi was developed to be platform independent and to widen the EDI toolset into integration. It was designed to overcome the varied skills required to support many different products and cover the shortcomings of a fuller suite of Gentran products. Besides the Windows product, there was also Gentran for Z/OS (Mainframe), AS400 (I-Series), Unix and the lightweight version of Gentran for Windows called Gentran Director. The latter being tied into the Sterling Commerce Network and was only licenced to run on windows’ desktop products. Over time, IBM gradually removed support for all operating systems except Microsoft Windows and for limited applications with Gentran Director.

Gentran for Windows / Gentran Director

Gentran for Windows was developed in the late 80s and established itself as a very competent single tenant EDI solution. Arguably, with support, consultancy, and licenses, it became one of the highest revenue earners of the Sterling Commerce products sets, certainly to EDI/Supply chain customers. Gentran has some key strengths, such as a simple to use and maintain mapping tooling and the ability to visualise transactions. However, from the late-90s onwards, the limitations of the tool showed. Multi tenancy was only achieved with workarounds and the technology had to retrofit the rise of XML messages. Bridge products were required for communications beyond the very simple protocols acceptable when dial up was replaced by internet communications. Its biggest threat, however, arose with security and the rise of many vulnerabilities.

The original design of Gentran for Windows found it difficult to keep pace with growing security concerns.

Despite these limitations, there has remained a loyal user base attracted to the simplicity of the tooling and its ability to track transactions. Often, these clients have a small number of partners and very few new partner onboardings.

But this brings us back to our original questions:

  • Is your EDI solution the most cost-effective one available for a low volume company?
  • Is your EDI Solution vulnerable to ransomware attacks?
  • Are you fully supported with your EDI Solution when you identify issues or have a new partner onboarding?

Above all other considerations – the time has come for all clients to rethink their security position. The rise of ransomware attacks means that all organisations are vulnerable to attack and need to have solutions built for the modern day. Whilst Gentran for Windows continues to be supported by IBM, they achieve it with a skeleton staff. Most fixes are only applied once clients have identified an issue. This is not a healthy position when that issue could be a security flaw.

Does the IBM successor solution B2Bi (also called GIS Gentran Integration Server or Sterling Integrator), address the shortcomings of Gentran?

As the original name suggests, the solution was built with a strong migration route from Gentran to B2Bi in mind. From a communications point of view, Gentran was designed for Dial Up Communications and there has been no significant update to cater for Internet Communication. With IBM B2Bi, support for VAN’s (Value-Added Network) communications is available, along with a suite of secure protocols and approaches for point-to-point communications. There is also a host of other capabilities in B2Bi, such as the handling of many types of API (Application Programming Interfaces). From a platform perspective, a wide range of platform combinations are available as well as certified container solutions. This allows for ‘deployment on premises’ in traditional methods through to full hybrid cloud deployment.

If I move from Gentran, what is the best EDI and B2Bi integration solution available that gives me the same simplicity of Gentran while providing seamless migration?

In recent years, frameworks have been created such as the Lightwell Framework to address the simplicity that exists with the Gentran visibility tools and B2Bi’s more textual standard view. These frameworks sit on B2Bi software to provide a similar simple interface and functioning like Gentran. Hosted services like Coliance Agora, built on IBM B2Bi and the Lightwell Framework, provide a simple migration service. They can assist you to migrate away from Gentran and provide a service that is more cost effective for low volume companies. An added advantage is that they are monitored and fully supported to provide the latest security versions. In addition, EDI expertise is on hand to assist with new partner onboarding whenever required.

If you are finding it a challenge to improve the security in your organisation and still run Gentran for Windows or Gentran Director, then you might want to consider talking to Coliance. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how a hosted service built on IBM B2Bi and the Lightwell Framework can provide greater security with cost efficiency and effective onboarding.

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