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Q&A: IBM offers a peek at new SOAP for CICS

Search390.com spoke with Mark Cocker, a senior software engineer in IBM's CICS strategy team, about his company's new simple object access protocol (SOAP) for CICS technology preview. Cocker explained how the new SupportPac works, and offered an exclusive glimpse into IBM's plans to build SOAP support into the core of its CICS offering.

Can you tell me about the new SOAP for CICS technology preview? SOAP for CICS is a free technology preview, delivered...

in the form of a SupportPac. It is a CICS Transaction Server (CICS TS) V1.3 application that accepts and processes SOAP 1.1 messages sent via HTTP or WebSphere MQ. When a SOAP message is received, the SupportPac processes the SOAP envelope and handles basic SOAP headers. When the body of the SOAP message is reached, typically an XML document, it is passed onto a program the user writes for processing. This user-written program could parse the XML document, construct a communications area (COMMAREA) and drive an existing business logic program, then construct a response XML document. When used with CICS TS V2.2, the SupportPac also supports sending a SOAP message from a CICS transaction to a remote SOAP server or business partner. Will IBM build SOAP support into the core of its CICS products? If so, when? The SupportPac deliberately utilizes functionality already available in CICS TS V1 and V2 to give customers the ability to experiment with this technology and build prototypes today, and hopefully send us plenty of feedback. For those customers anxious to have a fully supported production-ready version, we are aiming to make an announcement during the third quarter of 2003. Beyond that, a more feature rich and fully integrated CICS solution is being planned as we speak, for inclusion in a future release of CICS. Please outline some of the features of SOAP for CICS. Are there any new security features? As a CICS application, the SOAP for CICS SupportPac builds upon many tried and tested features already in CICS. For example, inbound SOAP requests sent via HTTP are initially processed by CICS Web support (CWS) and similarly the WebSphere MQ/CICS adapter is employed to accept WebSphere MQ SOAP messages. Although the SOAP for CICS SupportPac does not currently implement any SOAP specific security or transaction mechanisms, it is easy to tailor the CICS Web support to use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) for encryption of inbound and outbound HTTP requests and enforce basic security and transaction attributes. Can you tell me about IBM's plans to incorporate the choreography functions from its WebSphere Application Server (WAS) Enterprise Edition into WebSphere Studio?

WebSphere Studio Integration Edition includes a visual tool that enables developers to create choreography scripts for execution on WAS at runtime. A similar function is provided for the CICS environment by MQSeries Integrator Agent for CICS, a product that includes both visual tools and runtime components. Choreography scripts created by MQIAC execute in the CICS runtime environment and may be driven by SOAP messages, MQSeries messages, JCA Connector calls, etc., enabling interoperation with WebSphere. In particular, scripts created by MQIAC may execute as "microflows" directed from a choreography script, which executes on WAS.

Got a CICS question? Ask our resident CICS expert, IBM's Robert Harris.

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Why did IBM see a need for this product?
CICS has been the core transaction processing monitor in corporate accounts for 35 years and remains vital to their day-to-day business. It is estimated that over $1 trillion worth of transactions move across CICS-based systems every day. A sign of how valuable these transactions are can be seen in how quickly customers have written applications to Web-enable CICS transactions for browser clients using WebSphere and CICS Web services. Moving forward, it is very likely that the set of technologies that make up Web Services, including SOAP, are going to have a similar dramatic effect on how business-to-business services will be implemented. CICS needs to be positioned to handle SOAP clients and reach out to SOAP servers in an easy to use and evolutionary approach, and this SupportPac is the first step. How will customers use the SupportPac? Will IBM support it?
We anticipate customers using the SupportPac to prototype solutions involving .NET client applications or intermediary servers submitting SOAP requests into CICS to drive business logic transactions. The SupportPac is free and provided as is with no formal IBM support and therefore only suitable for prototypes and not high-volume business-critical production systems. That being said, the SupportPac only relies on supported CICS application programming interfaces (APIs) (including BTS and the new HTTP outbound LINK interface). I'm encouraging feedback and discussion on our public newsgroup.

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