Some may see service-oriented architecture as the future of computing and mainframes as the past. But IBM is making a case that mainframe computers, still the mainstay of many company data centers, and the legacy software that runs on them will find second careers as SOA hubs.
This week, IBM is revealing enhancements to its middleware and development products to make it easier to integrate mainframes running the z/OS operating system into SOA environments, which are a collection of services that let applications communicate and share data. "The mainframe has to participate in the process flow, just like any system," says Steven Mills, senior VP and group executive of IBM's software group.
Go with the flow, Mills says.
Mainframes have their strong points: scalability, high-volume transaction-processing capabilities, comprehensive security, input/output capacity, and the ability to simultaneously run multiple applications, all qualities Mills argues make them useful for SOA, on-demand computing, and server virtualization applications. Trouble is, mainframes can be difficult to integrate with newer technologies. And the skills used by mainframe developers are very different than those used by SOA developers.
Two weeks ago, IBM debuted the System z9 Business Class entry-level mainframe for smaller businesses with a $100,000 starting price. The system can operate as hundreds of virtual servers and offers a capacity-on-demand feature that lets administrators switch processing capacity on and off for specific apps. That makes it particularly suited for SOA computing, which often entails simultaneously running a mix of Java and XML software and operational applications, IBM said.
American Modern Insurance Group, which runs an IBM mainframe and IBM AIX servers, is in the early stages of developing an SOA system, and senior VP and CIO John Campbell says the company's mainframe will play a role in that environment. "Like many, we're starting to explore the opportunities of an SOA approach. What we're looking for is the flexibility to quickly respond to business changes," he says. The mainframe will be a transaction engine that the insurance company's business partners will access through SOA. However, building and deploying such a system is difficult, and the entire project will likely take five years, he says.
Many IBM customers run mainframes within SOA environments, but it requires special gateway software and custom development and integration work, Mills says. This week's announcements are designed to simplify that by building more direct mainframe-SOA links.
New Rational development tools, including Cobol Generation Extension for z/OS and Cobol Runtime for z/OS, promise to make it easier for Java, Visual Basic, PL/1, and Cobol programmers to write mainframe applications that can run within an SOA. New security software--Tivoli Federated Identity Manager for z/OS--is designed to help secure transactions that span mainframes and distributed systems using SOA and Web services technology.
Here's how IBM sees it fitting together: WebSphere Process Server for z uses SOA to connect mainframe data to complex business processes. A new version of IBM's enterprise service bus software, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus for IBM System z, integrates applications as part of an SOA running on a System z mainframe. And IBM WebSphere Portal 6.0 for z/OS will combine data from mainframe and SOA applications into a single view.
That's quite a lot for a technology once considered extinct.