Saturday, 9 February 2008

Data integration and mainframes

SHARE surveyed its members back in July and August 2007 and has published the results in a report entitled, The New Mainframe: Data Integration and Service-Oriented Architecture, Big Iron Style. Its 431 respondents led SHARE to conclude that, "mainframes are evolving into a leading role both as a source of mission-critical data, as well as key services". They went on to say that this "immense, scalable, real-time transaction platform for the highly-integrated environments" is needed by today’s businesses. Coming from a mainframe organization these are not startling conclusions – they just really confirm what we already knew.

Obviously, SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture) is on everyone’s mind, and the survey found that nearly one in four respondents’ organizations are currently working on SOA projects. They also found that one in three are planning or considering SOA, of which at least half will employ mainframes in a central role. The survey also found that although most SOA efforts don’t reach all the enterprise, many companies are preparing SOA to meet real-time requirements. The figures showed that about 40 percent of companies are deploying or considering event-driven architecture.

What was, perhaps, surprising was that at least half of the surveyed sites still use hand-coded scripts to move data from their mainframes to other platforms or databases. It also found that while mainframes store and manage much of their enterprise data, most of it remains inaccessible. In fact, the majority of mainframe sites share only a small portion of their data across enterprise systems.

What this clearly illustrates is the need most enterprises have for something like SOA that will make the data they store – and remember figures between 70 and 90 percent are quoted for the amount of a company’s data that is stored on a mainframe – available to non-mainframe users. Perhaps it also illustrates that SOA is not as easy to achieve as a million Powerpoint presentations suggest!

One problem that many sites face is easily identifying programs – or even parts of programs – that can be turned into Web services. Another problem is that most of the mainframe programs are written in COBOL while the Web-based programs are mainly Java. There is a big difference between the two languages and it is quite hard to convert COBOL programmers to Java programmers. A third difficulty many sites face is that their experienced COBOL programmers are getting older – with many approaching or passing retirement age.

So what technologies are enabling mainframe SOA? The survey figures were 35% application server on another platform, accessing the mainframe; 31% application server residing on the mainframe; 31% XML infrastructure devices; and 27%, composite applications on another platform, but accessing mainframe. The other options scored below 15%.

The report makes interesting reading. But it looks like mainframes and data integration with the rest of the enterprise still has some way to go.

Next week: the new Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2008.

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