People still complain about how they are held back by old green-screen mainframe applications. It’s not the underlying business logic or application performance they usually are complaining about—that apparently remains rock solid and relevant and has been, in some cases, for decades—but the user interface. Granted, 3270 apps are clunky to use and require plowing through cumbersome screen sequences to complete even a simple task and scream for modernization but they can be modernized through CICS.
Another complaint is that the applications are difficult to change, especially now when organizations want to provide access to mainframe logic and data to users with smartphones or tablets. The question then is what degree of modernization: a pretty GUI facelift or something more structural or maybe a migration to a new platform. In the age of IBM hybrid computing, you actually have a lot more options than you did even a year ago.
IBM, mainly through the Rational Software group, offers a variety of ways to modernize z applications. You can start with the System z tools here. They enable you to develop mainframe-based applications in COBOL, PL/I, Assembler, C/C++, and Java, as well as workstation-based applications in COBOL, PL/I, and Java.
WebSphere, the app server, is another way to modernize z apps using Java and J2EE. IBM Rational Application Developer for WebSphere accelerates the development and deployment of not only Java, Java EE, Web 2.0 but mobile, portal, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications by providing integrated tools for development, testing, profiling, and delivery of applications. Recent upgrades to CICS also make SOA-based modernization even more appealing with support for some of the latest goodies like Atom feeds, RESTful interfaces, and more.
For several years DancingDinosaur has been touting SOA as the most direct way to modernize and repurpose mainframe logic and data. IBM Rational Developer for SOA Construction enables you to create and maintain RPG and COBOL applications as well as modernize them with a variety of techniques using IBM HATS. IBM’s developerWorks has the latest on SOA and web services. Ball State University has been using SOA to modernize its z applications for several years. For example, the school made the critical student schedule app, a CICS system, available to students anywhere, anytime, from any device. You can read Independent Assessment’s case study here.
Since social business promises to be the next thing, you can develop social business applications through Linux on z, either Red Hat or SUSE, using IBM Connections and WebSphere. Social business will become of interest to z shops as companies begin collecting social sentiment data on the z and want to analyze it fast.
System z shops actually have been doing some of this for a while. IBM reports an ISV seeking to increase efficiency and improve time to market for its z software products took advantage of the Metal C feature of the IBM z/OS XL C/C++ compiler to enable its programmers to write code in the C syntax and leverage advanced optimization technology in the z/OS XL C/C++ compiler. The IBM compiler’s Metal C feature cut development time by up to 66% while the company capitalized on C programming skills.
Even IBM reports its CICS dev team tapped IBM Rational Team Concert and IBM Rational Developer for System z software to convert its product development cycle from the existing waterfall development processes to agile development methods. The team used the Rational products to create a highly configurable, end-to-end integrated development environment. Adopting an agile approach and using IBM Rational software has helped the team reduce the amount of preparation required for status meetings by 75% and improved the efficiency of status meetings, decreasing meeting times by 33%. Anything that shortens meetings is worth its weight in gold.
The point is that z shops can do all the sexy app dev stuff—Java, cloud, social, mobile, agile, SOA—to produce richer, more flexible apps faster. And do so without abandoning the z or eating its considerable investment in the mainframe and still bring the z’s compelling virtues it brings to the party.