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ESB integration: Unlocking the mainframe

Colleen Frye

The mainframe crowd can be a tough audience -- the culture tends to be conservative, the practitioners are sticklers about security and performance, and they greet new technology with a healthy degree of skepticism. So the notion of using a newer technology like an enterprise service bus (ESB) for mainframe integration will have to prove itself, said Jody Hunt, senior product marketing manager at Iona Technologies, Waltham, Mass.

That's just what vendors like Iona and Neon Systems, in Sugar Land, Texas, are setting out to do with their ESB-type mainframe integration products. "The mainframe world is further along with Web services than with ESBs," Hunt said. "They're somewhat reconciled that Web services are OK now."

A lot of corporate data still resides in mainframes, yet integration remains a problem in the mainframe world. Typical point-to-point connections require software and hardware that can be costly to maintain and can hinder business agility.

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The mainframe world is further along with Web services than with ESBs
Jody Hunt
Senior Product Marketing ManagerIona Technologies

Neon recently rolled out Shadow RTE, a product it calls an "on-ramp" to an ESB. And Iona's Artix product for the mainframe, what Iona calls an "extensible" ESB, has been available for more than a year now. Both products are meant to work with enterprise-wide ESBs in a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

"We allow other ESBs to use us to get to information on the mainframe; we put it out in an industry-standard format to be integrated with ESBs," said Neon's Robert Evelyn, senior vice president for strategy and solutions. According to Neon, an enterprise-wide ESB doesn't typically provide the degree of instrumentation and optimization a mainframe requires.

Shadow RTE deploys natively on the IBM z/Series mainframe and serves as a foundation for Neon's mainframe integration products, providing a platform for Web services and real-time events. "The beauty of Shadow RTE is that you can call that data as a Web service. But you can also get to that same data using a standard database-type call if you're not into Web services yet," Evelyn said.

Iona's Artix for the mainframe "functionally mirrors the same concepts as Artix for the rest of the enterprise, but accommodates the way the mainframe works." The goal, Hunt said, is to create enterprise connectivity that includes the mainframe.

"A lot of customer data is still managed by the mainframe, so the customer database and the sources of customer information are critical to every business process; this is the kind of information people are serving up through Web services. Say you have an [IBM WebSphere] MQ connection between the client system and the mainframe; typically you have a COBOL-inspired message format for that. Instead of replacing that we create a Web service around the end of the MQ queue, so the mainframe sees no change, the implementation doesn't change and you can access it through a Web service. Our goal with Artix is to leave and layer versus rip and replace."

Hunt said Artix takes an agnostic approach to the ESB. "An ESB connects applications with other applications in an enterprise using SOA principles. Artix is the interface to whatever middleware layer you want."

The benefits of this approach, Hunt said, "is a more modern architecture, more accessibility and faster productivity. As you go to an SOA and have service endpoints, you can create composite applications quickly, so you can pull from the mainframe, Unix, Linux, etc. to create new applications quickly from old resources."

For more information

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With both Atix and Shadow RTE, the mainframe can now be a consumer of Web services, not just a server of Web services. "So from a mainframe you can participate in the world of Web services," Evelyn said. For example, he said, a mainframe application can make a Web services call to a non-mainframe platform to use in a business process.

An ESB-type approach can also help with migrating a mainframe system, Hunt said. "Web services provide an enabling technology for migrating systems without a large amount of disruption."

Still, Hunt acknowledges that the mainframe folks will need to be convinced. "Typically, the first questions are around security and performance; we've got solid answers for that. And typically the mainframe folks are thinking several steps ahead: How do I maintain this? What happens if I change the service interface? How do I manage several versions? These are things the less-technically mature crowd doesn't think of."


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