Connecting mobile devices to the mainframe, however, isn’t straightforward.
“Your portlet has to reflect a different viewing structure,” says Mike Brooks, CIO. “You have to consider the complexity of the query and the amount of data you want to exchange.”
The WebSphere portal runs on Viterra’s mainframe.
Developing mobile applications based on existing applications isn’t simply a question of reducing the display to the smaller format of the mobile devices. Each device has different display and input capabilities. The application must account for how it’s displayed and how the user can respond. Teenagers might enter the equivalent of a short novel when text messaging, but most users and devices have, at best, rudimentary text input skills and screen navigation capabilities. Pick lists are essential, but even pick lists used for conventional access must be restructured, reordered, and scaled down.
At this point in the mobile industry’s development, the specific mobile device target is important. The devices aren’t standardized in terms of format or capabilities, although targeting the Web browser considerably simplifies things. Still, what works for an iPhone may not work for a BlackBerry, Nokia S60 Symbian device, or Windows mobile device.
Similarly, developers need to consider the speed of the mobile connection. Slower speed connections necessitate reducing the amount of data transfer to a minimum.
For now, Viterra’s mobile initiative is purely exploratory. “We’re trying to figure out customer demand,” says Brooks. Its first effort will target BlackBerry units. “We could probably do an iPhone, but the BlackBerry is the dominant device in western Canada,” he adds.
Lotus Notes Options
IBM has another mobile play involving the mainframe, Lotus Notes/Domino, its groupware/collaboration and messaging product, which provides several mobile options. Domino is the server, which runs on the mainframe under z/OS or in a Linux on System z LPAR or virtual machine. Notes is the client.
“In the past, companies wanted traditional desktop access,” says Collin Murray, IBM product manager for Lotus Domino. “Now, it’s an advantage to have access anytime, anywhere.”