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SmartAdvice: Wrap Your Mainframe In Middleware To Modernize Legacy Apps

Use a portal and Enterprise Integration Architecture so legacy apps can be treated like objects, The Advisory Council says. Also, let the technology mature more before buying into VoIP over wireless LAN; and work out a strategic communications plan before an emergency.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com


Question A: Our legacy mainframe applications aren't flexible and adaptable enough to meet the changing needs of the business. How do we modernize them while minimizing disruption?

Our advice: As the rate of change in business accelerates, the rate at which a mainframe program can be changed decelerates over time. Since there's no way to make mainframe program change go faster, the solution has to be somewhere else.

Figure 1 shows a generic architecture for surrounding inflexible mainframe applications with highly flexible new applications, capable of invoking the behaviors already in the mainframe apps while also adding new functionality. The architecture also shows a way to add transactional capability and interpersonal collaboration up and down the value chain (i.e., to customers and suppliers), without modifying the mainframe applications.

chart

Beefing Up Mainframes
The solution involves six steps:

  • Select and install some form of Enterprise Integration Architecture middleware. There are a variety of proven products out there. (This expert has a preference for Microsoft or Microsoft-partner products in smaller enterprises where there aren't a lot of resources to do the comparative evaluation and multivendor integration appropriate in a large enterprise.)

  • Related Links

    Microsoft BizTalk Server

    BEA Tuxedo

    HP/Compaq BusinessBus


  • Encapsulate your mainframe applications. Typically, the enterprise integration architecture you select will have some way to do this. Once encapsulated, you can treat your legacy applications as objects, with known behaviors and known input and output standards, whether or not your legacy apps were written to be object-oriented.
  • Install a generalized format translator (shown as "Integration Manager" in Figure 1) that's external to both your new and legacy applications. Transaction format translation will never go away, and you don't want to keep modifying operational programs to stay current. Keep it all in one place.
  • Install portal technology so that human interaction with new and legacy applications can look coherent.
  • Install a Web server for system-to-system interaction across your value chain.
  • Write new applications to be Web-centric and viewed via a portal, using the latest development tools, and invoking your existing mainframe capability across the integration infrastructure.
  • Accept that mainframe rigor mortis is setting in. Make your investment around the legacy, not in it.

    -- Wes Melling

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