Get Ready to Web 2.0-ify Your Mainframe

You don't typically think of Big Iron as a locus of Web 2.0 activity -- but IBM is trying to recast it as such

You don't typically think of Big Iron as a locus of Web 2.0 activity. Web 2.0 is sexy and cutting-edge, after all, and the System z mainframe is typically viewed as a staid, unsurprising, technology platform. Imagine the surprise late last week when IBM Corp. announced new Web 2.0-friendly amenities for System z.

Big Blue touted a mix of offerings -- e.g., WebSphere Portal enhancements; new System z-oriented developer tools from Rational; Tivoli management offerings -- designed to encourage customers to shift Web 2.0 workloads on to Big Iron.

The point, IBM officials say, is that System z can and should be a full-fledged player in the still-gestating Web 2.0 landscape.

Thanks to the availability of IFLs and other Big Iron specialty processor engines, argues David Gelardi, vice-president of IBM's worldwide client center, there's a sense in which the mainframe comprises an affordable and even desirable locus for Web 2.0 activity.

"Most clients today -- because the capability just wasn't there [i.e., on the mainframe] -- have done sort of the Web 2.0 environment in an outboard server space represented by x86. But that could be consolidated in our Linux environment," he says. "This brings the capability directly on board to the z/OS environment, so if the application is actually running in the z/OS world, you can now bring that [WebSphere] portal capability and integrate it into the z/OS space. The point is that we have these specialty engines which provide an environment that's fine-tuned to the needs of Web 2.0, whether it's [Web 2.0] workloads running in Linux, DB2, or Java under z/OS."

In addition to numerous Web 2.0-friendly announcements, IBM also touted what it bills as an even more SOA-ready version of IMS -- a year ahead of schedule. Gelardi, for example, talked about as-yet-unspecified SOA enhancements in the forthcoming IMS version 11, which isn't slated to ship until Q4 of next year. He specifically highlighted the beta availability (as part of IBM's Quality Partnership Program) of IMS 11, which kicked off last week. Gelardi cited oblique SOA "improvements" along with the requisite performance and reliability tweaks.

"What you saw [in IMS 10] was the introduction of SOA and XML technology. Now we have Release 11 coming out, … and we will have a much more modern SOA environment. We're improving the availability and performance of the IMS environment, so we're going to start a data program right away for our existing IMS users, and then we'll make the actual IMS 11 product generally available in just about a year," he explains, adding that IMS shops "are going to have a fairly long migration period to get from 10 to 11."

Asked to explain more of IMS 11's SOA and performance improvements, Gelardi demurred. "Most of the [improvement] is to continue to bring the [SOA] capability into the environment. Performance and reliability are always very important. So it's kind of the next level [in terms of SOA and performance/reliability]. It's not as dramatic as 10 was in terms of introducing SOA, but it's sort of the next level of that."

On the Web 2.0 tip, IBM announced several products, including:

  • IBM Rational Asset Analyzer, a tool that enables project managers or developers to study and identify interdependencies between either mainframe or distributed applications. Rational Asset Analyzer ships with a new Web-based user interface that IBM claims scales better when it comes to handling enormous code reviews (of hundreds of millions of lines of code).
  • IBM Rational Team Concert for System z, slated to ship next quarter, is a collaborative development tool designed specifically for geographically-dispersed software development teams. It uses IBM's Jazz collaboration technology.
  • IBM Rational Developer for z for SOA Construction -- also slated for Q4 of this year -- purports to help developers maintain or enhance existing mainframe applications. IBM also bills it as an application integration tool, ideal for integrating legacy applications with Web applications. It comes in two flavors: a Java-based tool and a tool that uses Big Blue's Enterprise Generation Language (EGL).

The last offering includes a Web 2.0 "visual builder" and extends EGL support to popular Web 2.0 toolkits, such as Google and dojo. The upshot, Gelardi says, is that customers can tap Rational Developer for z for SOA construction to create mainframe mashups that consume back-end feeds from COBOL and PL/I, CICS, IMS, and Java- based WebSphere environments.

IBM also trumpeted a revamped version of WebSphere Portal for System z (slated for Q4), along with several new Tivoli management deliverables.

Gelardi concedes that Big Iron might not be the first or most obvious target for Web 2.0 roll-outs, but notes that the requirements of Web 2.0 -- for which Big Blue earlier this year rolled out a beefier, brawnier Series x server platform (its iDataPlex platform -- see -- places a premium on processing power, storage, security, scalability, and resiliency -- all of which are System z hallmarks.

"We have to recognize the fact that, just like with religion, people have found themselves with a principal or favorite son in the form of [which platform they want to use]," he says. "iDataPlex is an outstanding product for the client who's absolutely a deep believer in the scale-out technology, and it has a very important space when you're doing, for example, computationally-intensive workloads that you can parallelize out on a cluster," he continues.

"For the client who … already has the mainframe, and is sort of preconditioned to the idea of a large set of cycles or MIPS or computational capabilities that he partitions up across multiple different workloads, and he does that sort of in a natural way, this isn't such a stretch."

For customers wanting to feed mainframe-bound resources -- such as CICS, IMS, DB2, or other sources -- to Web 2.0 applications, there are incentives to hosting these applications on the mainframe, given the affordability of specialty processing power, Gelardi maintains.

"The mainframe is not a box business in the sense that every time I install a new application I need to add more servers. It's much more that when I add new applications, I look at the available cycles or MIPS in the mainframe, and if I need more, I add more. It is by definition a highly virtualized environment. It's ideal for the requirements [of Web 2.0 applications.]"

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