IT Management

When FirstMerit Corp. (Akron, OH), a full-service financial services company, set out to enhance its online customer banking services, it had no intention of abandoning its zSeries 890. It counted on its mainframe to continue playing a central role through a new Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) initiative intended to give customers fast, reliable access to their account information and allow them to conduct transactions such as money transfers with subsecond performance. FirstMerit also turned to the same SOA initiative to rejuvenate internal applications by adding new capabilities. The trick was to capture legacy 3270 and 5250 application logic as XML-based Web Services.

SOA has become one of the hottest IT buzzwords. Initially, it targeted the distributed, Web-based open systems environment and promised an easy way to access logic as services and exchange data for the purpose of integrating loosely coupled systems. Now the services approach is being viewed as the vehicle for unleashing valuable business functionality encapsulated in mainframe data and applications and making it available throughout the enterprise.

“Mainframe managers need to look at their existing application portfolio and think about converting it to services,” says Jim Rhyne, IBM distinguished engineer and chief architect.

Converting mainframe applications into services isn’t as difficult as it sounds. FirstMerit turned to DataDirect’s Shadow z/Services Distributed to create .NET services in the Windows environment to convert 3270 mainframe VSAM transactions for use as Web Services. DataDirect, which recently acquired NEON Systems, is now a division of Progress Software.

“We were able to take what we had on the mainframe and expose it for our .NET applications to display on the Web,” says Larry Shoff, executive vice president and CTO of FirstMerit.

Similarly, Western Reserve Group (WRG), an insurance company based in Wooster, OH, turned to OpenConnect Systems to “Web-enable our mainframe information and eliminate information maintenance and redundant data entry for our network of 400 insurance agents,” says Dan Pitcher, WRG’s vice president of IT. Specifically, WRG “wants to take certain activities such as CICS transactions and leverage them across different applications and systems,” he adds.

IBM, AttachmateWRQ, Seagull Software, and other vendors offer tools to help data centers convert mainframe functionality into services.

Leveraging the Mainframe

Services are intended to enhance the mainframe’s role, not replace it. In the new SOA view of the world, the mainframe becomes a primary services provider.

“You want to service-enable host functionality and let others pull that functionality into other tools and applications,” says Tom Bice, product marketing manager at AttachmateWRQ. To do this, you “extend the mainframe functionality as a reusable service that can be included in an SOA strategy,” he continues.

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