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The mainframe's potential for Web services and cloud computing

Wayne Kernochan

This is the third installment on modernizing business-critical applications on the mainframe. Check out the previous chapter on the risks and benefits of application modernization.

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Web services allow IT departments to make a legacy mainframe application available not only to the entire organization, but also to a global customer and partner base of millions. The Web service's ability to provide one service for multiple front-end clients – end users via the website, in-house application or cross-organization technology -- allows more rapid changes to the mainframe application that are available to a broad range of users. The Web service's ability to invoke other Web services such as security, business compliance and personalization, makes the mainframe application more feature-rich. Web service information, stored in a repository, gives administrators a common software-asset information base to monitor and troubleshoot the enhanced mainframe applications.

"Cloudization," or virtualization of mainframe apps, complements Web services by making the mainframe application much more flexible. Instead of per-platform capacity on demand, IT can shift workloads between platforms. If a cloud does not contain a mainframe, IT can still move mainframe app instances to and within a remote cloud -- and, of course, IT can move Wintel and Unix/Linux apps to a mainframe within a cloud.

These technical advantages also lead to broader business benefits: lowering the cost of doing business; allowing companies to achieve greater efficiency by using mainframe business-critical applications more effectively; using the mainframe as a hub of distributed applications that scale out across the Web and up within the mainframe; and giving the organization greater ability to adapt to changing conditions.

Criteria for an upgrading mainframe apps
IT buyers should emphasize the following criteria in choosing an upgrade-in-place product for Web enablement, Web servicizing, or virtualization.

  • Comprehensive functionality. The solution should include extensive middleware that provides a powerful software infrastructure so developers upgrading the existing application can easily integrate powerful new capabilities. The middleware should support old and new technologies as well as the upgrade process. It should also include a full range of new technology "standards" such as .NET.

  • Services. The supplier of the upgrade product should provide consultants and systems integrators that are both experienced in the mainframe and savvy with new technology to aid upgraders and train IT in upgrade best practices.

  • Flexibility. The product should handle undocumented mainframe applications and allow easy addition of a wide range of Web/e-business features.

  • Low risk. The upgrade technology should draw on long experience with mainframes to detect and minimize dangerous changes to the application, such as changes to the schemas of an underlying database.

  • Programmer productivity. The technology should support tool sets from the supplier and/or third parties. The middleware should provide powerful APIs so that e-business functionality can be rapidly added.

IBM mainframe app modernization options
IBM offers a large set of mainframe software legacy modernization and Web-servicization tools and services. The primary products are development and upgrade tools based on the Eclipse open source framework, which provides standards-based flexibility and third-party tool integration.

Rational Developer for System z (RDSz), often supplemented by Rational Host Access Transformation Services (HATS), adds to Rational mainframe-development and existing-application-upgrade functionality that allows users to prepare typical existing and legacy software for inclusion in composite applications that integrate business processes effectively.

The Internet and the cloud has made it easier to Web-servicize in place, adding cost-effective Internet connectivity and app deployment with minimal impact on production environment.
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RDSz also includes support for Web services and JCA connectivity to multiple versions of CICS and IMS, as well as visual modeling and flow-generation support for the CICS v3 Service Flow Feature. It adds workflow and business integration functionality to allow creation of new composite applications that integrate with existing application functions and Web services. RDSz includes native support for WS-BPEL4WS-compliant processes and a range of process integration and ESB capabilities.

The Eclipse initiative specifically supports substituting or adding third-party development tools to IBM's tools and framework. RDSz provides support for CICS-based application upgrade. IBM's service arm offers modernization outsourcing, advice and support, including Web-servicization offerings. Moreover, IBM modernization solutions allow users to incorporate IBM's security, privacy, business compliance and master data management software as part of the standard interface to these applications.

The advent of the Internet and cloud computing has had a mainframe application effect directly opposite of what one might expect. Instead of increasing the attraction of migrating performance-critical and similar existing applications, the Internet makes it easier for enterprises to Web-enable and Web-servicize in place, adding cost-effective Internet connectivity and application deployment or cloud deployment with minimal impact on the enterprise's production environment. Mainframe users should, therefore, look either for upgrade-in-place capabilities in an overall development product or a separate upgrade toolset to allow cost-effective re-use of the existing software portfolio in any development project.

Infostructure Associates and others have for some time noted an upsurge in conversion of key mainframe applications to Web services offering Web service provider interfaces. This is a major win for customers. Web-servicizing mainframe applications in place allows users to take advantage of not only the mainframe's business-critical applications but also its security, privacy, business compliance and master-data-management software. Web-servicization upgrades the mainframe's legacy applications, turning the corporate application portfolio's vicious circle of increasing maintenance costs into a virtuous circle of decreasing costs and business benefits available to a wider range of end users. Virtualization, often requiring no additional effort, can add cost-effective flexibility for cloud implementations. IBM's extensive mainframe development and legacy-application modernization tools, and its software for security and other Web-service needs, make it a logical choice for users seeking to get full value from a business-critical or mission-critical mainframe application.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wayne Kernochan is president of Infostructure Associates, an affiliate of Valley View Ventures. Infostructure Associates aims to provide thought leadership and sound advice to vendors and users of information technology. This document is the result of Infostructure Associates-sponsored research. Infostructure Associates believes that its findings are objective and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication.

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