In today’s IT marketplace it is easy to think that mainframes are being marginalised more and more in companies across the world. Indeed, not so long ago the story was that the mainframe was the dinosaur, headed towards global extinction. This forecast has, of course, been thoroughly disproved, as many companies continue to gain great business benefit from their mainframe investments. Indeed, the mainframe actually seems to be staging a resurgence as people realise that its unsurpassed levels of availability, scalability and performance are still as important to business today as they were twenty years ago.
One major shift that has helped this revival is the move by IBM and the mainframe-oriented ISVs to acknowledge that value will best be preserved and leveraged by opening up the mainframe to the rest of the IT world as much as possible, moving it from inside the datacentre into a much more collaborative role. This shift has taken advantage of a timely new development called service-oriented architecture (SOA). An SOA enables the aggregation of a diverse set of IT assets in order to deliver business services that support operations more effectively, with minimal effort and without the need for specialised skills. Essentially, in an SOA, programs are turned into black boxes that can be used to build business services without any knowledge of where or on what system they are running.
Companies with large mainframe investments will immediately appreciate the benefits that SOA brings to the mainframe. At a stroke, the benefit of years of mainframe investment becomes accessible in a relatively simple way to all areas of the business, and indeed, new applications also become accessible that allow the mainframe to take advantage of technological developments such as the worldwide web and Windows workstations. These different technology investment areas can feed off each other, creating maximum value and improving the return on assets.
But there is more. Turning routines into building blocks enables a much higher level of code reuse. As a result, development and maintenance costs are reduced, time-to-market and agility are improved and business risk is reduced. It is for these reasons among others that many mainframe companies now consider their SOA initiatives to be such a high priority.
However, no change is without risk. Executives of mainframe-oriented companies are often uneasy about allowing the mainframe world to merge with the rest of the IT structure. For example, concerns abound about preserving service levels and maintaining security and integrity, and there is also a general feeling that extensive retraining is going to be needed. The reality is that generic tools developed without considering special mainframe needs will not do the job effectively. Success or failure with mainframe SOA activities will be governed, to a large extent, by the effectiveness of the tools to support them, and so companies should look for toolsets that are specifically oriented to mainframe SOA development, deployment and operations.
This paper considers the topic of mainframe SOA, and identifies the best-of-breed characteristics to look for in evaluating any mainframe SOA toolset, in order to help companies make the decision that will best suit their individual needs.