Blindly navigating mainframe and SOA integration

Old-school programming languages like COBOL are arguably the most significant roadblock between mainframe and SOA harmony. It’s also a far more complicated language barrier than can be solved by simply calling in a translator; effective service management requires that unique developer who’s not just multilingual, but who’s also situationally versed on the company’s business architecture and can deftly navigate the infrastructure’s roadways.

“It’s usually a very small group of people who still know COBOL that are responsible for maintaining the mainframe apps,” says Ron Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink. “These people are either still managing it for the company or they’re not even around anymore, and so this stuff is sitting there and literally nobody’s managing it. This code is so legacy it’s untouchable.”

Herein lies the fundamental problem: the disconnect between the mainframe developer and the other developers responsible for the enterprise architecture. Schmelzer warns that many companies moving towards SOA and legacy integration may not be prepared for this issue. They’ve invested a lot in infrastructure, but not a lot in organization. Overstaffing and stratification of roles can create an information Tower of Babel, with different languages, redundant apps, and overly complex interfaces.

“Do you really need a portal group, a CRM group and an Internet group, when they’re all sharing the same apps?” Schmelzer asks. “Why are three different groups building three different sets of code to work with one mainframe application?”

One consequence of this fragmentation and cross-communication is low visibility. This may not be a new issue to the mainframe developer, who, especially in the era of compliance, is accustomed to the frustration of the legacy black hole. “That’s why we had the whole Y2K bust in the first place,” Schmelzer says. Add that organizations are now running multitudes of different apps in different languages, and it’s easy to see how planning for change, tracking transitions or observing the impact of a new service can be difficult, if not impossible. “Many companies are operating blind, and that’s just not good business sense,” Schmelzer says.

The healthcare, government, insurance and finance industries represent the most significant demographic in legacy integration. Generally, they have the largest volume of mission-critical data still residing on their mainframes. At the same time, these are the industries that must attend most carefully to compliance and governance requirements, and for them, visibility becomes absolutely essential. These industries must focus on logical architecture and streamlining their infrastructures even before integration begins to avoid consequences down the line.