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Readying mainframes for SOA not so simple?

Just how easy is it for developers to prepare mainframe apps for service-oriented architectures? Well, the answer to that is all relative. Vendors are quick to tout SOA simplicity but some warn the process often brings unforeseen strain to IT environments.

“People sometimes get a naïve and unrealistic view that this is something very, very simple,” said Mike Oara, CTO of Relativity Technologies. “The sooner people know about the difficulty of the task, the better it is for them.”

Raleigh, N.C.-based Relativity specializes in the enterprise app modernization process, aiming to increase the flexibility of apps and exploit their value. According to Oara, the group achieves this by identifying hidden architectural traps, a process he calls “pre-enablement.” This process is essentially a review of in-house legacy and mainframe apps that exposes functionality, pinpoints traps, provides solutions and creates definitions for services.

These aforementioned traps run the gamut from conjoined service and client apps (which should be programmed separately before enabling SOA) to service apps that are unresponsive, those affected by pop-up programs and apps (like accounting programs) with interfaces simply too large data-wise for the SOA migration. These issues are identified and mitigated through Relativity’s SOA-enabler tool within its Modernization Workbench software.

“Mainframe applications continue to automate and control the world’s most critical business processes and turning to SOA as a way to increase the flexibility of these applications is an approach that is gaining appeal,” says Peter Mollins, product marketing manager, Relativity. “…However, the very nature of mainframe applications can cause the created services to be inefficient, fail outright or even to be impossible to isolate in the first place.”

According to Mollins, the Workbench has the ability to:

  • Assess the SOA-readiness of apps by classifying them as data-facing, screen-facing, mixed or biz logic, and identify those that can quickly become SOA enabled.
  • Recognize potential pitfalls and offer SOA-building solutions.
  • Execute solutions by “unraveling” biz logic into standalone modules that are more easily wrapped as a service.
  • Generate WSDL to pass to SOA orchestration tools for all services ready for deployment.

No matter the nature of an organization’s existing apps, experts say when it comes to mainframe-to-SOA migration, planning and pre-enablement is a developer’s best ally.

“Organizations can gain low cost and low risk business value by SOA-enabling their mainframe-based applications,” says Dale Vecchio, research vice president, Gartner. “This value is further enhanced when using application analysis and application renovation capabilities by helping locate the functionality that forms the foundation of better grain services and ensuring that the mainframe’s high quality-of-service can be preserved.”

But Oara says, depending on the client, the process can take anywhere from three months to three years, and he stresses the importance for developers to understand that not all biz apps can be SOA-enabled without major modifications. “If you have 1,000 programs, are you going to create 1,000 services? Perhaps not.”

About the Author

Jason Turcotte is an assistant editor at Application Development Trends. He can be reached at jturcotte@1105media.com.

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