Sep 1 ’06

z/Vendor Watch: WebSphere MQ for z/OS: Enterprise Application Integration From the Mainframe Down

by Editor in z/Journal

When all the hype surrounding on-demand computing and Service- Oriented Architectures (SOAs), it would be easy to believe most large businesses have tight, secure integration across their IT infrastructure. In truth, application integration remains a moving target in most enterprises, and most IT departments still lack a solid, reliable backbone to help them reduce the complexity of application integration.

It’s easy to see how this complexity emerged. The sheer diversity of hardware platforms, databases, and software packages in use in the average enterprise has inevitably led to information “silos,” while mergers and acquisitions have forced IT departments to cope with an increasingly heterogeneous infrastructure. The problem is that so many integration solutions are homegrown, designed in-house and built using components that lack sufficient technical resilience. According to research by IT analyst Software Strategies, such solutions take between two and four times the effort to build as those supported by mature middleware products—and the resulting code is invariably more fragile.

Seamless application integration is no longer required simply to improve system performance or to streamline service delivery. The need to comply with regulations—such as Sarbanes- Oxley, Basel II, the Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), International Safety Rating System (ISRS), and the COBIT Act—is placing intense pressure on IT departments to consistently track business processes end-to-end, to guarantee the integrity and security of data exchanges and transactions as they pass through multiple IT environments in the enterprise and between partners. That’s why middleware that supports this flow of information between dissimilar applications and databases needs to exhibit the highest levels of security and manageability.

The Problem With SOA Integration

For the large enterprise, SOA provides much in terms of application responsiveness and flexibility. Unencumbered by the heavyweight interfaces of established strategic IT systems, Web-based services offer a way of combining a large range of functional components, on the fly, to address specific needs as they arise. These standardized services, built around technologies such as Microsoft .NET, SOAP and Java Messaging Service (JMS), complement and enhance the traditional enterprise applications with which they interoperate. The problem is that, for services to remain flexible and lightweight, they can’t themselves embody the highly resilient and secure routing capabilities that we have come to expect in a top-tier IT infrastructure. The connectivity between existing applications and new services needs to be provided by the underlying middleware backbone, and needs to offer a simple, secure and highly resilient method of exchanging messages between all the enterprise’s IT assets.

WebSphere MQ: From the Mainframe Down

For years in the mainframe world, we’ve come to expect this level of middleware sophistication (a level rarely seen on other platforms); when building a backbone for application integration that crosses multiple operating system boundaries, it’s essential to retain the characteristics of mainframe manageability.

IBM’s WebSphere MQ family provides a strong solution for connecting diverse enterprise resources. Since its debut in 1993, WebSphere MQ has provided an asynchronous messaging mechanism for loosely coupling a vast range of application types where delivery of dispatched messages is guaranteed by the backbone—once and once only. Although there are versions available for numerous platforms, WebSphere MQ for z/OS is the flagship of the range. WebSphere MQ for z/OS plugs into MQ networks that support more than 40 platforms in more than 80 platform configurations.

WebSphere MQ offers a mature, resilient backbone for Web Services, supporting SOAP requests to connect Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and Microsoft .NET applications. Unlike many of the standards for supporting Web-oriented traffic, however, WebSphere MQ provides functionality and manageability that specifically address mainframe user needs.

WebSphere MQ has always been closely integrated with CICS, IMS, and batch services, but at the Version 6.0 level IMS/CICS connectivity functions have been greatly enhanced. It’s now possible to use WebSphere MQ bridges to give CICS/IMS access to messages from other z/OS regions and other non-z/OS platforms, bypassing the CICS/IMS Application Program Interfaces (APIs) (see Figure 1). WebSphere MQ for z/OS also brings some significant availability and performance benefits, including shared queue support, automated load balancing and isolation of server failures with automatic peer recovery of failing queue managers.

Top-level security is taken for granted with core System z middleware, and WebSphere MQ has always allowed close integration with RACF and third-party alternatives. WebSphere MQ for z/OS offers full support for 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), essential for supporting today’s Web Services, and the Extended Security Edition (based on Tivoli technology) goes a stage further, providing applicationlevel data protection with facilities for remote management of security policies and non-intrusive distribution across existing production environments. This makes it a worthy option for users who need an integration backbone that allows cross-platform data exchange without compromising data security.

Supporting the Remote Manager

With today’s rapidly changing business priorities and IT managers constantly on the move, centralized management of mainframe tools is no longer sufficient. The distributed version of WebSphere MQ Version 6.0 includes a toolset based on the Open Source Eclipse Workbench, which allows WebSphere MQ for z/OS V6.0 (and any other WebSphere MQ V6.0 deployment) to be remotely managed from a Windows PC or a system running Linux on Intel. So, for the first time, queue managers on multiple platforms in an MQ network can be managed and configured from a single laptop, with all changes protected via SSL.

For enterprise management of a WebSphere MQ infrastructure across multiple platforms, including multiple z/OS queue managers, a centralized management approach is necessary. This simultaneously supports management of all queue managers. IBM Tivoli OMEGAMON for WebSphere Business Integration (WBI) manages the entire WebSphere MQ and message broker environment from a Web-based console, so when a channel fails, it can be automatically restarted; it allows L2 or L3 support to dig down into the collected metrics to see which application isn’t processing the messages on the queue in a timely manner. This automated approach is necessary for keeping the messaging backbone running in support of WebSphere ESB.

Once there are more than a few queue managers to configure, it makes sense to have a centralized management tool for configuring WebSphere MQ. Tivoli provides for centralized MQ configuration management where all objects are kept in a central database. They’re verified for correctness and can then be scheduled for deployment. Scheduling these changes across all platforms in the WebSphere MQ infrastructure guarantees they’ll be simultaneously updated.

Consistency and Scalability

Perhaps the most striking feature of MQ and the other WebSphere products at Version 6 is the level of consistency and portability they now offer. In the broader framework of the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), the various WebSphere components—including application server, message broker and WebSphere MQ itself—combine to provide universal connectivity and data transformation across the enterprise. At Version 6, there’s a high level of commonality between the code bases on different platforms, which greatly simplifies cross-platform support. Moreover, with a standard messaging API (message queue interface) across the board and full support for JMS Version 1.1, WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Application Server offer a strong combination of technologies for managing and integrating new-generation J2EEbased applications wherever they reside in the enterprise.

The Bottom Line for Application Integration

WebSphere MQ isn’t the only messaging middleware product available, nor is message queueing by any means the only approach to integrating the disparate elements of the typical enterprise application portfolio. However, recent developments in IBM’s WebSphere MQ backbone clearly address a growing need in the enterprise to integrate the flexible, lightweight services that characterize the SOA environment with the same high level of performance, resilience, and security that MQ has achieved with core mainframe applications for more than a decade.

Large enterprises, typically in the financial, retail, government and manufacturing sectors, are under increasing pressure to exploit the exciting opportunities promised by SOA and Web Services, but to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise any of the strategic functionality that’s accrued in the existing enterprise infrastructure. For SOA to succeed in organizations at this level, it must be firmly supported by an underlying messaging backbone that provides the guaranteed availability and integrity absent from the services themselves. In this respect, products such as WebSphere MQ can certainly look forward to a new lease on life. Z