Unlocking more value from legacy CICS applications

old-lockIBM’s acquisition of ILOG has resulted in a great new opportunity to unlock the business value of CICS applications by turning the COBOL logic into easy-to-read/edit ‘business rules’.

IBM has taken the ILOG JRules Business Rules Management System (BRMS) and made it part of the WebSphere family. But even better for CICS users, IBM has made this business rules capability available for CICS applications too. This whole subject is discussed in more detail in a new and free Lustratus Report, downloadable from the Lustratus web store, entitled “Using business rules with CICS for greater flexibility and control”. But why is this capability of interest?

The answer is that many of the key business applications in the corporate world are still CICS COBOL mainframe applications, and although these applications are highly effective and reliable, they sometimes lack in terms of flexibility and adaptability. Not unreasonably, companies are loath to go to the expense and risk of rewriting these essential programs, but are instead looking for some technology-based answer to their needs for greater agility and control. The BRMS idea provides just that. Basically, the logic implementing the business decisions in the operational CICS applications is extracted and turned into plain-speaking, non-technical business rules, such as ‘If this partner has achieved GOLD certification, then apply a 10% discount to all transactions’. This has a number of benefits:

  • It becomes easy for rules to be changed
  • It becomes easy for a business user to verify the rules are correctly implemented
  • If desired, business users can edit operational rules directly

While BRMS is a technology with a lot to offer in many scenarios, it seems particularly well suited to legacy environments, providing a way to unlock increased potential and value from existing investments.


Mico Focus ReUZE misses the point

Micro Focus announced its latest mainframe migration tool, ReUZE yesterday – and once again it has completely missed the point.

The background is that for companies looking to move off the IBM mainframe, Micro Focus has been offering solutions for a number of different target platforms, but in each case the solutions have been based around the old emulation concept. Once again, it seems the company has fallen into the same trap. As the press release states

Unlike other solutions which insist on rewriting mainframe application data sources for SQL Server, or removing mainframe syntax from programs, the Micro Focus solution typically leaves the source code unchanged, thereby reducing costs, risk, and delivering the highest levels of performance and reliability.

The highlighted end to this statement is where I have a problem. Micro Focus seems to think that by offering an emulated environment for mainframe applications, it is reducing risk and delivering the best possible performance and reliability. But this is a load of rubbish. Think about it from the point of view of the mainframe user that has decided to move away from the mainframe – in this case to a Microsoft environment. This is a big step, and the company concerned must be pretty damn sure this is what it wants to do. It has obviously decided that the Microsoft environment is where it wants to be, and as such surely this will include moving to a Microsoft skills set, Microsoft products and tools – database, security, and all the rest. So why settle for an emulation option?

The point Micro Focus has missed is that emulation is a way of propagating the old. After all, it originally stemmed from terminal emulation, where the object was to make sure that end users still saw the same environment even when their workstation technology changed. This was very sensible, becuase it focused on the right priority – don’t force the end users to have to retrain. But let’s be clear – emulation costs. It provides an extra layer of software, affecting performance and scalability, and puts future development in a straightjacket because it propogates the old way of doing things. However, in this case the cost of retraining end users would far outweight these implications.

But in the situation where a user is moving off the mainframe to a Microsoft world, why would the user want to propogate the old? Yes, the user wants to reuse the investments in application logic and data structure and content, but surely the user wants to get to the destination – not be stuck in purgatory, neither in one place nor the other. Why restrict the power of .NET by forcing the user to operate through an insulating emulation environment? Why hold the user back from moving into the native .NET database system of SQL Server and thereby leveraging  the combined power of the operating system, database and hardware to maximum effect? Why force the user to have to maintain a skills set in the mainframe applications when one of the reasons for moving may well have been to get to a single, available and cheaper one?

Yes, the Micro Focus approach may end up reducing the risk of the porting process itself, since it tries to leave mainframe code unchanged, but that is a long way from reducing the risk of moving from one world to the other. And as for the comments on leaving everything unchanged to ‘deliver the highest levels of performance and reliability, that is just laughable. What makes Micro Focus think that the way an application is designed for the mainframe will deliver optimal performance and reliability in a .NET environment? The two environments are completely different with totally unlike characteristics. And when has an emulation layer EVER improved performance/reliability?

I see this ReUZE play as like offering someone drugs. If you’ve decided you want to move off the mainframe to .NET, I have a drug here that will reduce the pain. You will feel better …. honest. But the result is you will be left hooked on the drug, and wont actually get where you want to be. If you have decided this migration is for you, don;t try to cut corners and fall for the drug – do the job properly and focus on the end goal rather than the false appeal of an easy journey. Just Say No.