When Atlanta-based National Account Service Co. LLC (NASCO) needed to help its customers, large health insurers, provide their own customers with control of their benefits, it turned to Web services to provide everything from claim status information to personal healthcare spending accounts. Similarly, when MeadWestvaco, an $8 billion producer of packaging, specialty papers, consumer and office products, and chemicals, wanted to leverage its use of SAP to improve order management and achieve greater flexibility, it turned to Web services.
The Bekins Co., a 100-year old moving company, turned to Web services running on Windows servers and its z/Series mainframe to broadcast instant notification of the brokered shipping opportunities that meet each of its agent’s (independent third-party transportation companies) specific criteria.
After what has seemed like endless hype, companies are finally doing substantive things with Web services and reporting significant results. “It has taken a long time, but people are doing real, practical, worthwhile things with Web services today,” said Carol Baroudi, principal, Baroudi Bloor, a technology research and consulting firm based in Arlington, MA. As these IBM case studies illustrate, Web services technology can be used on mainframe platforms along with the organization’s most critical enterprise applications to produce business benefits.
WEB SERVICES EVOLUTION
There is nothing revolutionary about Web services. On the contrary, Web services are a further refinement of Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs), Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), and distributed component-based computing. “Web services technology is just another Application Programming Interface (API). It is a way to use a standard API for everything instead of lots of different APIs,” said Peter Rhys-Jenkins, principal architect, Candle Corp. Consulting Services. Web services also take advantage of the existing, standardized IP networking infrastructure. As a result, “Web services are much easier and much simpler,” he added.
Web services represent another way of writing applications. The application’s functionality, even the entire application itself, is delivered as a service. Usually combining application functionality and data, Web services perform some recognizable task, such as generating an invoice or checking inventory availability. Entire applications, such as Customer Resource Management (CRM), can consist of Web services or be a Web service.
Most people think Web services are intended primarily for the distributed, open systems world in which application servers broker the Web services. The hardware platform, however, hardly matters. “z/OS is a great place to host Web services,” Rhys-Jenkins said. Although Web services often are written in Java, they can just as easily be written in COBOL. The only requirement is that they conform to the few standard interfaces: HyperText Transport Protocol (HTTP) for transport over the network, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) as the message protocol, and XML as the data format.
Web services lie at the core of the services-based architecture where application functionality is made available as a service. To do their jobs, other applications will request the service, and a service may request services from other applications. An application can consist entirely of service requests. Intended for system-to-system interaction, Web services enable the application to invoke specific functionality simply by sending a standard service request — no custom coding or plumbing are required. The key is using a standard request and interface.
“With Web services, you can extend mainframe functionality, allowing it to be accessed by other systems, even a browser,” according to John Kiger, director of Web services strategy at BEA Systems. Early Web services adopters turned to the technology for fast, flexible application integration behind the corporate firewall. Mainframe and distributed open system applications could request processing and exchange data through a few basic protocols, effectively integrating the applications.
WEB SERVICES PAYBACK