"Book 'em, BookServe!"

The heroine coolly moves her mouse across the desk, snapping up titles with blatant disregard for order or theme. She selects a book, inputs her personal information and credit card data without a second thought, and sends it whizzing into cyberspace. But what of the evil geniuses sent to destroy her and end her quest to right wrongs? They'll surely track her, now that she's sent her name across the Internet. Or will they? And what about that book she just ordered? Will she ever receive it? And how will she know the status until it reaches her door?

It used to be that consumers heard dire warnings about sending information across the net, about credit card information and social security numbers being stolen. But most sites that request this sort of info now offer heightened security that makes this a needless worry. And our heroine? Don't worry about her; the site she visited, BookServe.com, is totally secure, crack-proof.

And what about the second, and just as important, issue? One that's just as or more important to many of us. When will we get our stuff??? And did they even receive our order in the first place?

Since the heroine ordered from BookServe.com, we know the answers to those last few questions. That's because BookServe.com automatically notifies customers of the status of their order. They note the order date, items requested, their expected ship date, and the shipping address. The note also includes contact information. Another e-mail is sent when the items are shipped. And if - gasp! - an item is backordered or cancelled, the heroine would receive e-mail notification of these, as well.

The fastest turnaround in cyberspace

LaVergne, Tenn.-based BookServe.com [and its related sites VideoServe.com and GameServe.com (coming soon)] is an online vendor of (no suspense here) books, videos, and games. As parts of SpeedServe, they offer approximately 500,000 book titles in English, Spanish, German, and Dutch, over 85,000 videos, and 15,000 games.

Because they usually ship an order within 24 hours of its receipt, BookServe.com bills itself as "the fastest turnaround in cyberspace". That's pretty remarkable, especially when compared with other sites on the web that sell product. The other pretty remarkable thing about this company is the speed of confirmation and status e-mails sent after an order is placed.

Orders are transmitted to the order department for fulfillment, and at the same time, an e-mail is sent to the purchaser to confirm their order and shipping information. A template featuring boiler plate text is merged with data from the order then sent to the e-mail address specified in the order. Thus, the consumer is notified almost immediately that BookServe.com has received their request and is processing it.

What's all the fuss?

Buying product over the Internet is not a totally new concept. But using a mainframe to process the e-mail from a web site is. BookServe.com uses a mainframe because of the vast benefits they recognized.

BookServe.com was founded on the tenets of convenience, speed, and reliability. Their customers know that when they request a book, their order won't get lost somewhere in cyberspace, and that the books will arrive when scheduled.

Convenience, speed, and reliability - mainframes are known for these attributes. But seldom do we see Internet applications run on host computers. In fact, the larger machines are perfectly suited to electronic commerce applications such as these. They combine dependability and uptime with the capacity to store and process hundreds of thousands of messages sent on a daily basis. And the security the mainframe offers is crucial to companies taking orders online. More and more organizations are seeing the benefits and converting Internet-based applications back to large host computers.

Using mainframes as a web server is attractive to large companies for other practical reasons: lower labor and support costs and limited software and hardware upgrade costs. There's also the access to data already residing on the host computers.

Jumping the hurdles

But one very real obstacle remains; users who are accustomed to working in the slick PC environment are reluctant to work in what they see as a kludgy system. An effective way to marry the benefits of the mainframe with the needs of the users, SpeedServe.com discovered, is via an e-mail gateway between the mainframe and the PC.

BookServe.com uses MailServer/390 from Irvine, Calif.- based CASI (Computer Applications Services, Inc.) to keep everyone happy. MailServer/390 is an SMTP mail gateway and POP3 mail server for IBM 390 compatible mainframe computers. Orders from the mainframe-based web site are routed through MailServer/390 to whichever mail system they happen to be using on the mainframe or the PC. MailServer/390 doesn't differentiate; it routes it to whichever mail system is designated for that particular person. The site may have many different mail systems in use, and MailServer/390 talks with them all.

On the mainframe side, most often the mail system MailServer/390 talks to is EMS, also from CASI. It's a powerful, functional, and flexible mail system that meets the needs of most mainframe users. EMS offers electronic mail, personal productivity tools (i.e. to do list, calendar scheduler), and mail enabled application development.

BookServe.com was a CASI EMS customer who added the SMTP gateway because they immediately saw its potential; according to John Carrell of Ingram Entertainment, MailServer/390 is the "greatest thing since sliced bread because it allows the use of traditional CICS skills to implement Internet mail, and there is no skill replacement or need to acquire new skills."

Using the mainframe for mail?

MailServer/390 was developed to enable organizations to easily send mail between the mainframe and any LAN-based mail system using open standard protocols. The idea was to build on existing infrastructure to meet the needs of companies that have disparate mail systems throughout the company, especially those using both platforms. MailServer/390 allows sites to leverage the power, reliability, and storage space of the mainframe while supporting both local and remote users.

A huge number of organizations still use mainframe power for computing and have space on the host they can utilize, rather than adding more and more PC-based servers. And they have the personnel who are already familiar with and supporting users on the mainframe. MailServer/390 allows sites to leverage their existing investment in hardware and trained employees while realizing the many benefits, such as extended e-mail uptime, increased storage capabilities, security, and accessibility to data.

And MailServer/390 provides tight integration between the Internet or company intranet. It's a natural extension of any company's e-mail system.

Electronic commerce

SpeedServe is a perfect example of how to utilize mainframe resources. Their three web sites combined receive approximately 100,000 hits per day, and this year they expect to handle close to 1 million transactions per day. Activity like this would overwhelm a Windows NT or Unix server. And in fact it did; SpeedServe grew so quickly that their NT hardware couldn't handle the traffic. They brought in an IBM S/390 to take over.

Once the mainframe was in place and all the data was input, the customer service interface became a priority. BookServe.com's automatic notification system, built using MailServer/390, is relatively new to the Internet; it was put in production October 15, 1997. So far response has been overwhelmingly positive. Take our heroine, for example. Rather than trusting blindly that her order was indeed sent and that her books will arrive in a timely fashion, she receives immediate notification that BookServe.com is working to fill her order.

Behind the scenes

The foundation of the system is an IBM S/390. SpeedServe.com uses POP3 and SMTP mail systems for the PC, while customer service representatives use the Eudora mail package. Once an order is placed, a shipment is sent, or a product is backordered (basically, when there's a change in the status of an order), a mail message is automatically generated by the Cobol system. The mail is delivered via MailServer/390 to the post office (on a Spark machine). The post office handles DNS resolution and forwards the mail to the customer.

Each customer is given a tracking number. When they reaccess the BookServe.com, VideoServe.com or GameServe.com site, they can view their order(s) on their personal web page. If they enter the tracking number, they will automatically access the UPS or Federal Express site to view the en-route status.

SpeedServe.com has realized many benefits from converting from NT to a mainframe-based system and implementing this automated customer notification system. Not only does the mainframe guarantee greater reliability and accessibility, but this system requires less staffing than does a non-automated system. The directive to automate as much of the process as possible was in response to concerns about rising personnel costs and the desire to offer the best customer service possible. SpeedServe.com believes they have succeeded on both counts.

Return to MailServer/390

Copyright 1998, Trax Softworks, Inc. All rights reserved.
Updated September 17, 1998