CICS / WebSphere

May 17 ’13

The IBM CICS Transaction Server Feature Pack for Mobile Extensions
V1.0 Introduces Native Support for JSON Data in CICS

 

The IT industry is undergoing a mobile transformation as the explosion of mobile devices in the marketplace has driven service providers, such as banks and utility companies, to offer mobile applications. The proliferation of mobile devices brings a new raft of challenges to application developers as they do battle with competing platforms, frameworks and technologies—and this is just on the mobile device. This doesn’t even begin to address the additional complexity of connecting to existing enterprise services, many built long before mobile devices appeared on the scene.

Thankfully, a revolution of this sort isn’t uncommon in IT. Think back 10 years before the mainstream uptake of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), which led to the service-enablement of many existing back-end applications, extending their reach and transforming business flexibility in the process. Mobile is similar in this respect, offering business another transformational step, broadening the reach, flexibility and immediacy of the services they offer.

The challenge facing mobile developers today is to create a compelling mobile solution without having to re-architect the enterprise to achieve it. Businesses worldwide already have a huge investment in IT solutions, and when we look at the world of the mainframe, the applications and data they host are typically there to support core business. As businesses try to differentiate themselves from their competition, they often turn to IT solutions to find an advantage. It’s no surprise that businesses are seeking technology solutions to unlock the value of their mainframe assets and extend their reach onto the mobile platform.

Mobiles and Mainframes

What do we really mean by mobile? For most people, the term mobile is synonymous with a mobile phone. However, we shouldn’t limit our thinking; today, the term covers a broad range of form factors—from the smartphone to the tablet—and we’re even starting to see the convergence of the mobile platform with laptops. As we noted before, this represents a huge challenge to the mobile developer in determining which platform(s) they should support. Of course, the mobile transformation isn’t without its supporting frameworks; jQuery, Dojo and Sencha offer developers a simplified approach to building a common look and feel for their apps. However, these frameworks certainly aren’t the complete integration solution a developer needs to connect to their enterprise applications and resources residing on the mainframe.

So, we’ve looked at what mobile means, but what about the mainframe? What are we referring to when we use that term? The mainframe is home to critical enterprise applications and data. It’s common for mainframe applications to be hosted inside CICS Transaction Server (TS), with their accompanying data stored in DB2 or perhaps on VSAM files. In a modern enterprise, you might also expect the applications to be based on an SOA model, where subcomponents have been enabled as Web services. CICS TS provides a robust, scalable, secure transaction processing environment capable of handling millions of transactions per day. CICS TS also ensures updates to multiple data sources remain consistent, even when failures, such as crediting and debiting bank accounts, occur.

Bridging the Gap

Building a mobile offering around existing mainframe resources might sound like an unusual match, but we’ve already recognized that the mainframe represents the core business and IT investment, and the growth of the mobile application market can’t be ignored. Business requires a solution that can bridge the gap between the mobile and the mainframe in a way that makes it easy to support multiple mobile platforms.

The IBM Mobile Foundation provides the solution in the form of IBM Worklight. IBM Worklight provides a platform for developing and managing applications for mobile devices. It enables you to create rich mobile applications without relying on unpopular scripting languages and it supports all popular mobile platforms. More important, from the mainframe perspective, it also offers a middle-tier component, the Worklight Server. 

A common concern among data center managers and architects is mainframe security. Given the critical nature of the applications and data residing on the mainframe, being able to isolate it from the outside world is imperative. The Worklight Server acts as a gateway between the mobile and mainframe worlds, providing secure connections to the mainframe through its adapter-based architecture.

CICS Support for JSON Data

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) is becoming the industry’s favored solution for mobile data exchange, thanks to its lightweight formatting rules that don’t require costly processing. The IBM CICS Transaction Server Feature Pack for Mobile Extensions V1.0 introduces native support for JSON data in CICS and is available at no additional cost. This immediately removes a significant barrier between the mobile device and the mainframe application, allowing them to communicate in a common language. The final piece of the puzzle is the Worklight Server, which provides an HTTP adapter that can be used to connect to CICS to send and receive JSON data, finally linking the mobile to the mainframe.

A Mobile-to-Mainframe Example

Let’s consider an insurance company that wants to offer its customers a mobile insurance solution. The company might have gone through an SOA transformation in the past, so it already has a componentized architecture for its core business services. It wants to bring these services to its customers without having to introduce new application components to do so.

Figure 1 illustrates the three core components we discussed earlier in a typical configuration pattern. The application running on the mobile device connects to the Worklight Server, passing a request in JSON format. The Worklight Server’s adapter validates the request before passing it on to CICS, again in JSON format or as a SOAP request. CICS receives the request and invokes the target service, converting the JSON data into the format expected by the target service. When the service responds, CICS packages the response in JSON format and returns it to the Worklight Server, which in turn passes it back to the mobile device. The beauty of this solution is twofold: The mobile application developer doesn’t need to worry about the native data format of the mainframe application, thanks to the JSON support, and the mainframe application developers don’t need to modify any application code to support the mobile offering.

JSON: Not Just for Mobile

JSON format isn’t restricted to use with just mobile devices. Its lightweight representation and ease of processing mean it has been widely adopted and supported. JSON extensions exist for a wide range of languages, and native support is now available in Web browsers. Many IBM products also have support for JSON, among them is WebSphere Message Broker. The CICS Feature Pack for Mobile Extensions opens up opportunities for connecting CICS to a vast spectrum of devices and technologies extending far beyond mobile.

Summary

The proliferation of mobile devices is a global phenomenon, and it’s having a profound effect on the way we go about our daily lives. Everything from reading the news, to checking stock markets, to transferring money between accounts can now be done on the move from a mobile device. As business starts to exploit new mobile service offerings, connecting to existing enterprise systems becomes increasingly important—especially doing so without excessive cost, disruption or a need to re-architect existing applications.

CICS TS is host to many core business applications; the challenge is finding a suitable solution to exploit these applications on mobile devices. In conjunction with Worklight Server, CICS TS provides a robust, scalable hosting environment capable of handling the most demanding mobile-driven workloads. The IBM CICS Transaction Server Feature Pack for Mobile Extensions V1.0, available at http://ibm.com/cics/mobile, provides improved integration with mobile devices, thanks to the JSON support it offers. If you want to deliver compelling mobile solutions that support all the major mobile platforms, integrated with your existing mainframe applications, then CICS TS combined with the new mobile feature pack and Worklight Server provide the robust platform you need.

For further information on CICS and mobile, watch the CICS goes Mobile Webcast, available at https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/mydeveloperworks/blogs/cicsdev/entry/cics_goes_mobile_
webcast_replay1?lang=en.

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