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Monday, July 14, 2008

Future for Mainframes in SOA

While it is far too early to get an answer it is now possible to ask, as a serious rather than trivial question, whether there is scope to see new sales of zSeries mainframes grow into the SOA and web services-based market sectors as a result of new developments in integration tools, such as the recent appearance of DataDirect Technologies' major upgrade of its Shadow integration platform, for the traditionally back-office machines. Will it be enough to prove to be a positive lever on green field zSeries sales?

It might still be a brave person who answered ‘yes’ right now, the opportunity now exists where the mainframe can start to play a full part in a web-services/SOA environment, running applications that can proactively participate in that environment rather than just be a passive contributor to it. While it may not be natural to think of a mainframe as a core system in such an environment, Version 7 of Shadow does offer the potential to move IBM's zSeries systems well beyond the traditional role of back-end, back-office batch system.

Given that Java is a strategic part of the Shadow V7 enhancements the inherent I/O capabilities of the machine open up some interesting new possibilities in terms of managing high density real-time business applications such as online transactions in, say, retail or financial environments. In fact a wide range of Java applications can now exploit the high-capacity I/O capabilities of the mainframe. This could mean that the investment made in existing mainframe systems can now produce an almost infinite return. It can also make the notion of new mainframe investments for web-services and SOA-based applications and infrastructures quite apposite.

The addition of integration tools for widely used web service-related standards such as SOAP and XML will now make it possible for mainframe business logic and web services to communicate directly, allowing the mainframe to start to play a front-line role in providing important business process services to underpin web-service delivery in real time.

There are two useful tricks performed by DataDirect with Shadow. One is its abaility to integrate data directly with the common schema of web services, such as SOAP and XML, as well as the widely used SQL interface. This takes the mainframe to a new and much richer level of direct integration with the web services and SOA world. The second is Shadow's exploitation of the IBM zIIP and zAAP processors. Their arrival has already had an impact, allowing customers to run new and expanded workloads and, in particular, DB2 database workloads, on the mainframe in a cost-effective manner. The specific advantage here is access to a high speed processor engine that runs with none of the normal performance/pricing issues associated with the system in use. These engines are available to users for a one-off price rather than being geared to the mainframe processing capacity (MSU) pricing restrictions associated with the mainframe General Purpose Processor, yet are allowed to run at maximum speed.

Access to these processing engines is possible using either Task Control Block (TCB) or Service Request Block (SRB) threads. By developing patented technology that allows applications using TCB or SRB threads on the zIIP and zAAP processors, DataDirect has not only provided a significant performance improvement for existing applications but also opened zSeries machines up to some significant new operational possibilities. For example, expansion of the data integration tools to cover ODBC, JDBC and ADO means that new mainframe data queries to IMS, VSAM, IDMS and Adabas are now possible. The product will feature DataDirect's line of client drivers, which support ODBC 3.5.2 for 32-bit and 64-bit computing, JDBC 3.0 Type 4 for 32-bit and 64-bit database drivers and ADO.NET data providers. The SOAP and XML integration tools will allow parsing between mainframe business logic and web-services screen logic.

Many of these drivers are already being widely used by ISVs, which provides the added advantage of opening up the mainframe as a target platform for their applications offerings, widening both their market potential and the range of applications options available to existing zSeries users.

The key here is that, by allowing the IBM Java Virtual Machine (JVM) to run within the Shadow address space, it allows Java applications to run, at maximum system performance and no extra running costs, on the zIIP and zAAP engines. This way one of the problem areas of running Java applications on a zSeries machine—the operational expense—can be overcome, making the zSeries a viable option for running Java applications. Given the natural propensity towards applications with a high I/O demand, this should make zSeries machines an interesting new platform option for many typical java-based business applications.

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