API Economy Comes to the IBM z System

What comes to mind when you hear (or read) about a RESTful IBM z System? Hint: it is not a mainframe that is loafing. To the contrary, a RESTful mainframe probably is busier than it has ever been, now running a slew of new apps, most likely mobile or social apps with REST APIs connecting to z/OS-based web services plus its usual workloads. Remember web services when SOA first came to the mainframe? They continue today behind the new mobile, cloud, social, and analytical workloads that are putting the spotlight on the mainframe.

Travel and Transportation - Passenger Care

Courtesy of IBM: travel fuels mobile activity (click to enlarge)

A variety of Edge2015 sessions, given by Asit Dan, chief architect, z Service API Management and Glenn Anderson, IBM Lab Services and Training, put what the industry refers to as the emerging API economy in perspective. The z, it should come as no surprise, lies at the heart of this burgeoning API economy, not only handling transactions but also providing governance and management to the API phenomenon that is exploding. Check out IBM’s APIs for Dummies.

The difference between first generation SOA and today’s API economy lies in the new workloads—especially mobile and cloud—fueling the surging interest. The mobile device certainly is the fastest growing platform and will likely become the largest platform soon if it is not already, surpassing desktop and laptop systems.

SOA efforts initially focused on the capabilities of the providers of services, noted Dan, particularly the development, run-time invocation, and management of services. The API economy, on the other hand, focuses on the consumption of these services. It really aims to facilitate the efforts of application developers (internal developers and external business partners) who must code their apps for access to existing and new API-enabled services.

One goal of an enterprise API effort is to access already deployed services, such z-based CICS services or those of a partner. Maybe a more important goal, especially where the z is involved, is to drive use of mainframe software assets by customers, particularly mobile customers.  The API effort not only improves customer service and satisfaction but could also drive added revenue. (Have you ever fantasized of the z as a direct revenue generator?)

This calls, however, for a new set of interfaces. As Dan notes in a recent piece, APIs for accessing these assets, defined using well known standards such as web services and Representational State Transfer (REST) with JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), and published via an easily accessible catalog, make it efficient to subscribe to APIs for obtaining permissions and building new applications. Access to the APIs now can be controlled and tracked during run-time invocations (and even metered where revenue generation is the goal).

Now the API economy can morph into a commercial exchange of business functions, capabilities, and competencies as services using web APIs, noted Glenn Anderson at Edge2015. In-house business functions running on the z can evolve into an API as-a-service delivery vehicle, which amounts to another revenue stream for the mainframe data center.

The API economy often is associated with the concept of containers. Container technology provides a simplified way to make applications more mobile in a hybrid cloud, Anderson explained, and brings some distinct advantages. Specifically, containers are much smaller in size than virtual machines and provide more freedom in the placement of workloads in a cloud (private, public, hybrid) environment. Container technology is being integrated into OpenStack, which is supported on the z through IBM Cloud Manager. Docker is the best known container technology and it works with Linux on z.

With the combination of SOA, web services, REST, JSON, OpenStack, and Docker all z capable, a mainframe data center can fully participate in the mobile, apps, cloud API economy. BTW, POWER servers also can play the API, OpenStack, Docker game too. Even Watson can participate in the API economy through IBM’s early March acquisition of AlchemyAPI, a provider of scalable cognitive computing API services. The acquisition will drive the API economy into cognitive computing too. Welcome to the mainframe API economy.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran IT analyst and writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing on Technologywriter.com and here.

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