Rob would like to thank Brian Anderson, director of product management at GT Software, for contributing this month’s column,


The chant has shifted. What used to be "We're moving off of our mainframe” is now "We are service-enabling our CICS [corporate information and computing services] or IMS [information management system] applications." The demand for mainframe-based services is accelerating. Organizations have embraced the reality of the mainframe in the new service-oriented architecture (SOA) world. These robust and highly functional legacy systems contain decades of corporate data and continue to touch virtually every segment of the world. Whether the industry is financial services, health care, manufacturing or any vertical market for that matter, mainframe applications and data are the heartbeat of the largest enterprises. Organizations are realizing the noteworthy enterprise benefits an SOA can bring to an organization. It is flexible, dynamic and, most of all, it is realistic and pragmatic.


What began with the low-hanging fruit, CICS COMMAREA-based applications, has now spread to screen-based 3270 applications on both CICS and more recently IMS. Success with mainframe SOA is growing. Enterprise architects and CIOs are looking deeper into their portfolio of mainframe applications and data. How can applications beyond the simple CICS and IMS applications be included in their SOA strategy? Should they be included? This search for value inside the mainframe is ever increasing. The mainframe’s role in the enterprise SOA strategy is becoming clearer. Forward-thinking, visionary organizations have begun to see the service-enablement of the thousands and thousands of nontraditional mainframe applications as a modern-day “holy grail” of mainframe SOA.


Immense Value Still Resides in Mainframe Systems


The business value realized from reusing mainframe application business logic and data is priceless. Today’s mainframe applications are directly tailored to the unique needs of the business. Whether it’s an insurance rating engine, an accounting module or even a manufacturing application, the vast majority of mainframe applications have been customized and tuned over the last 20 to 30 years to provide the exact functionality required for the business to compete. As organizations march toward SOA, the mainframe is now viewed as an integral component of prudent strategy.


The last five years have seen a proliferation of tooling, from IBM and third-party independent software vendors (ISVs), designed to rapidly SOA-enable the mainframe. These solutions typically target CICS COMMAREA and 3270 applications. The 3270 applications are potentially the face of mainframe computing. These are the green-screen applications that have represented corporate computing for decades.


The success of this new breed of SOA tooling has opened up a completely new portfolio of programs to include in an enterprise’s SOA strategy. With the success of creating reusable business services from CICS applications and, more recently, IMS applications, enterprise architects are looking deeper into the mainframe to identify more valuable business programs and logic for inclusion. The questions being posed are: “How can I expose applications and data beyond the standard CICS and IMS? What about data sources beyond just DB2 or VSAM?”


The Mainframe is More Than CICS and IMS


The majority of existing tooling for mainframe SOA is limited to CICS and IMS applications. These solutions cannot address the true depth and breadth of most enterprise’s mainframe portfolios. As organizations evaluate their applications for inclusion in the SOA strategy, it is critical to properly identify the scope of the mainframe’s role in the new SOA. Enterprise architects and Web services managers quickly discover that the mainframe is not just CICS.


Nontraditional Applications: The Missing Link of Mainframe SOA


Most tooling vendors view the application, business, data logic that is in fourth generation programming language, packaged applications, custom code and routines to be nontraditional applications, and outside the scope of their products. This is where vendors and enterprise architects make a critical blunder.


Nontraditional applications contain critical business value that is imperative for engendering a true mainframe SOA. Without nontraditional application logic and data, organizations are missing as much as half the value of their mainframe system.


There are large install bases of products, such as Software AG’s Natural and CA IDMS. These transaction-based systems may also be packaged with their own database, such as Adabas with Natural or CA Datacom with CA IDMS. Additionally, packaged applications are quite pervasive in large mainframe environments. Applications such as Hogan Systems, a leading core banking package now owned by CSC, and a host of other packages span virtually every vertical.


While packaged applications are common, what is perhaps even more common are the roll-your-own, or home-grown, in-house COBOL applications. Many enterprises chose to write their own business logic and leverage mainframe databases, such as DB2 and VSAM. These custom applications typically are essential to the line of business and are of great value when enterprises create a service repository for reuse.


Beyond applications and transactional processing systems are other technologies, such as MQSeries and Common Object Request Broker Architecture(CORBA). Each of these has a strong penetration in the mainframe market, with IBM’s MQSeries touching over half of the mainframe install base. These integration technologies have been used over the years to deliver valuable applications to business users.


And there’s more - lots more. Many mainframe-based enterprises have also created encryption and compression routines that are extremely valuable to the business applications.


Mainframe Data as a Service


Nontraditional can also apply to database logic. Beyond application business logic, there are vast stores of data residing on the mainframe. You will find databases of all types and sizes. There are databases using a flat file format (like that of VSAM), a hierarchical format (like IMS/DB), a relational format (like DB2), and inverted/post-relational types (such as Adabas or CA Datacom). These different mainframe databases contain the vast majority of the Global 2000’s core application data.


Why not expose valuable database calls and queries as a service? Why not combine these database calls with transaction-based logic to create a composite, multifunction business service?


The Journey Ahead


Inside the mainframe, beyond CICS and beyond IMS remains thus far uncharted territory for mainframe SOA. For the mainframe to truly participate in SOA as a first-class citizen, enterprises should investigate tooling and solutions that will enable the inclusion of virtually all business and data logic on the mainframe. Using the right tooling, one will be able to expose a CICS transaction, a Adabas database query, a packaged application transaction and CORBA logic orchestrated together to create a multifunction, multioperational business service. This truly is the holy grail of mainframe SOA. And, its attainable today.

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