CICS and PHP – DON’T PANIC

OK, so when IBM briefed me a few weeks ago on the new announcement about PHP support for CICS, I almost fell off my chair. IBM asked me what I thought and I said I was horrified…taking something as reliable and trustworthy as CICS and throwing it into the wild, unkempt PHP world just left me filled with dread. But on hearing more, my concerns were largely put to rest, and my message to others with the same initial reaction as me is ‘Don’t Panic’.

The initial description to me was ‘adding PHP support for CICS transactions’. Now I am not so old that I do not understand the power of PHP, and its ability to quickly generate nice, modern interfaces for websites and the like. But my own experience of PHP is playing games on the Internet (“Sorry the server has crashed, the damn PHP code has gone pear-shaped again”)  and messing about building pages and making a mess of them. I therefore initially viewed the idea of PHP in CICS as a great way to take reliable applications and make them unreliable/unpredictable, while probably crashing the rest of the innocent CICS apps at the same time.

However, it turns out IBM is not stupid. The biggest point that relieved my fears is that the PHP support is provided in its own address space. Now, CICS is REALLY good at protecting different address spaces from hurting each other – in fact I was part of the team that delivered the multi-region operations (MRO) capabilities to I can vouch personally that this is the case.  So all of a sudden, what had me running screaming for the hills begins to sound like something quite exciting and yet also non-threatening. As I thought about it more (and talked to some people half my age who are PHP fans and really understand the sorts of things it can do) I began to realize how smart IBM has been here. This is a great way to provide a more flexible and rapid way to build jazzy front ends to CICS apps, extending their life sustantially. It also offers the modern wave of technical people an environment with which they are initmately familiar.

The upshot is, PHP support for CICS looks like a winner. There is no need to panic about disruption to operations, because of IBM’s smart thinking in isolating the PHP functionality, but on the other hand this support offers companies a way to leverage their CICS investments, keep the technology vital and alive, respond far more quickly to the need for more attractive interfaces enabling more efective multi-channel delivery and get the kids excited and contributing.

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.

Steve