IBM takes mainframes into the SOA age

The latest developments in IT have been optimised to run on one of computing's oldest devices. Paul Krill reports

Recognising a role for its big-iron boxes in contemporary SOA (service-oriented architecture) environments, IBM has unveiled new tools and initiatives to give its mainframes more prominence in SOA.

The effort aims to help users handle the proliferation of business processes and applications that IBM says is turning its System z mainframe into a global hub of internet-based computing. The company expects the SOA trend to prompt a doubling of the number of transactions on mainframes before 2010.

“We are seeing an increase in the workloads coming back on the mainframe — the IT world tends to ebb and flow a bit,” says Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive at IBM’s Software Group.

“The labour cost issue is the single biggest driver moving more workloads back to the mainframe,” he says.

Under IBM’s plan, users can consolidate processing on a mainframe instead of spreading it on many distributed servers, says Hayden Lindsey, an IBM distinguished engineer (an internal company award) at the company’s Rational Software group.

“Customers are seeing this and in fact they’re finding it more cost-effective to consolidate a lot of their workload onto many fewer z machines than hundreds or thousands of distributed machines,” Lindsey says.

One mainframe user agrees with Lindsey’s assessment.

“It’s easier to manage the mainframe than a bunch of Windows servers — we have a smaller staff running the mainframe and those functions run 80% of our business,” says Bill Homa, CIO of Hannaford Brothers, a supermarket chain.

Hannaford Brothers deployed a System z mainframe in October to serve as the hub of its SOA.

“We used to be fairly distributed, but the difficulty of managing thousands of distributed servers was just a nightmare. In the past five years we’ve made an effort to make everything we can centralised,” Homa says.

Key components of Big Blue’s SOA initiative are new IBM Rational Cobol generation tools, which enable developers using Java, Visual Basic, PL/1 and Cobol to build SOA-enabled mainframe applications. The tools include Rational Cobol Generation Extension for z/OS and Rational Cobol Runtime for z/OS.

“We generate Cobol for deployment onto the mainframe,” Lindsey says.

To connect mainframe data to complex business processes in an SOA, IBM is rolling out WebSphere Process Server for z, software that can help to SOA-enable processes such as an online credit card purchase that requires checking inventory and shipping status.

The IBM WebSphere ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) for IBM System z, meanwhile, integrates applications and services as part of an SOA running on the mainframe. For advanced ESB functionality, a new version of WebSphere Message Broker is shipping.

IBM WebSphere Portal 6.0 for z/OS combines applications in an SOA and customises the information. For example, it enables a sales manager to see a deal status, revenues and product information on the same screen for specific users, IBM says.

Additionally, the planned DB2 Viper for z/OS data server will link unstructured data such as email, videos, audio, images and RFID-generated data with relational information on databases. It will support the IBM System z9 Integrated Information Processor, which is designed to free up computing capacity.

The upcoming Tivoli Federated Identity Manager for z/OS offering secures transactions across mainframes and distributed computers using SOA and web services technology, IBM says.

Featured are identity management and compliance tools to enhance System z’s encryption and intrusion detection features.

IBM is making the right move by promoting a mainframe role in SOA, says Phil Murphy, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“The presumption there is that the mainframe had nothing to do with SOA, and this [announcement] changes that,” he says.

“I guess my view is the industry tried, ‘Let’s everyone get off of the mainframe,’ in the late ‘90s. It didn’t work because there are many organisations that need that level of power.”

— Additional reporting by Shelley Solheim

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