Gentran simple, visible but time to change?

IBM Gentran for Windows is one of three main on-premise based EDI solutions that IBM offer under the Sterling Brand,

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

ITX Advanced, originally called SPE (Standards Processing Engine) ITX Advanced was an off shoot from B2Bi. Taking the EDI processing engine within B2Bi and marrying this up an XSLT mapping tool and WTX (WebSphere Translator now called ITX) which is very good but has little traction in the supply chain market. This may be due to the requirement to send and receive the files to be processed so it is more for specialised applications or part of a wider set of tools.

B2Bi was developed to be platform independent and overcome the different skills required to support many different products and cover the shortcomings of what was a much fuller suite of Gentran products. As well as the Windows product there was Gentran for Z/OS (Mainframe), AS400 (I-Series) and Unix. There was also a lightweight version of Gentran for Windows called Gentran Director which has a tie in to 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 Gentran Director.

Gentran for Windows was developed in the late 80’s and established itself as a very competent single tenant EDI solution with some key strengths such as simple mapping tooling and the ability to visualise transactions. Not sure if it was the highest revenue earner of the Sterling Commerce products but it certainly sold the most units to the EDI/Supply chain customers.

From the mid 90’s onwards the limitations to the tool started to show, multi tenancy was only achieved with workarounds, the technology had to retrofit the rise of XML messages and bridge products are required for communications beyond the very simple protocols acceptable as dial up was replaced by internet communications. Upper most though is security. The design of the original product has made security extremely taxing for the product to keep pace with.

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 tend to have a small number of partners working happily and very few new partner onboardings.

The time has really come for those clients to reconsider 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, it is done on a skeleton staff and fixes tend to only be applied once clients have identified an issue. Not a healthy position to be in when that issue could be a security flaw.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article IBM developed a successor solution originally called Gentran Integration Server (GIS) now named B2Bi to address the shortcomings of Gentran. As the original name suggests, it means 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 has had no significant update to cater with Internet Communication. In B2Bi support for VANs (Value Added Network) communications are available as are a suite of secure protocols and approaches for point to point communications. As well as this there a host of other capabilities such as handling API (Application Programming Interface).

From a platform perspective a wide range of platform combinations are available as well as certified container solutions. This will allow deployment on premise in traditional methods through to full hybrid cloud deployment.

In recent years frameworks have been created such as “Lightwell’s Framework” to address the simplicity that exists with the Gentran visibility tools and B2Bi’s more complex standard view.

Hosted services like Coliance Agora, built on IBM B2Bi and Lightwell Framework, provide a simple migration service to migrate away from Gentran and can provide a service many times more cost effective for low volume companies with the advantage they are monitored and fully supported to the latest security versions. In addition, EDI expertise is on hand to assist with new partner onboarding whenever required.

If you are being challenged with improving security in your organisation and still run Gentran for Windows or Gentran Director, then you might want to consider talking to Coliance.

Contact us at info@coliance.co for more information.

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