CICS: Lynchpin of the Next-Gen Data Center

IBM releases two new and three updated CICS tools

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new CICS tricks? Last week, IBM celebrated CICS’ 35th birthday by unveiling two new tools (CICS VSAM Transparency and CICS VSAM Copy) and three updated ones (CICS Business Event Publisher, CICS Performance Analyzer, and IBM Session Manager).

CICS has long ruled the back-end transaction-processing roost, but Big Blue also markets a raft of products and services designed to complement, modernize, or interoperate with its venerable transaction-processing environment. In this respect, says Rick Thomas, a CICS business development manager with IBM, the tools announced last week are another example in kind.

“Not only are we doing CICS tools to support a product that’s celebrating its 35th anniversary, but our tools are designed to support the whole ecosystem, WebSphere [application server], and the MQ [Series] infrastructure that is the messaging glue between these various subsystems,” he observes.

Take CICS Business Event Publisher 1.2, for example. It allows CICS to drive business transactions in a mixed-workload environment—such as WebSphere, WebLogic, or other application server workhorses. So what, exactly, does Business Event Publisher bring to the table? “It allows you to track events that occur in CICS and through a rules-based engine,” Thomas explains. “You can now drive transactions with WebSphere or with CICS.”

This helps CICS to become a reciprocal player in the next-generation application infrastructure, Thomas says. “Customers would use WebSphere to do customer-data-get, customer-data-put kinds of transactions with CICS, but the converse requirement is just as valid, which is that CICS transactions have the need quite often to go collect information and/or update information on other systems,” Thomas explains. “So they’re starting to say, ‘I’ve got these other business transactions where I want CICS to drive WebSphere, or a DB2 stored procedure.’ Until we came out with the Business Event Publisher, there was really no good way for CICS to drive these business transactions.”

Similarly, CICS VSAM Transparency is middleware that routes CICS VSAM calls to DB2, instead. The idea, of course, is that DB2 is a lot more WebSphere-friendly than VSAM, says Thomas. “This is a tool that allows a customer to migrate their vast stores of data in VSAM into DB2 without having to rewrite their CICS applications,” he explains. “Tons and tons of CICS applications are written to VSAM. It’s very fast, very efficient, but it’s not DB2 and it doesn’t come with all of the business intelligence and relational capabilities you get from DB2.”

Because CICS VSAM Transparency is middleware, it’s bound to introduce a performance hit, right?

Thomas acknowledges that some performance overhead is “inevitable,” but says it really shouldn’t have much of an impact for most customers. “We’ve done measurements that show that the performance overhead is negligible. We’ve nearly been unable to measure it,” he comments, conceding that “we don’t test in every environment that customers have, and in every volume of transactions that customers have, but we do test in a lot of them.”

Chances are, most Global 2000 customers have terabytes of information sitting on VSAM data stores, and Thomas suggests that IBM’s new offering could tempt many of them to move this data over to DB2: “The thing we find is that customers historically have not as much moved CICS transactions from VSAM to DB2. What they’ve done is they’ve added new transactions over the years, and the new transactions have tended to be against VSAM data.”

Elsewhere, IBM introduced CICS VSAM Copy, a tool that lets customers back up VSAM data before rolling out new CICS applications. VSAM Copy isn’t necessarily a new idea—Thomas admits that Computer Associates International Inc. and BMC Corp. both market similar tools—but it does introduce at least one promising new wrinkle. “The reason we’ve come out with a tool is that all of the other tools require customers to take their CICS [applications] offline when they do the copy, but we have designed this product specifically to alleviate that requirement,” he comments. “Ours is based on a premise called “copy while CICS is open,” and that becomes especially important today because of mixed workload e-business operations, where you have things like WebSphere, and .NET, and BEA applications that are driving CICS transactions.”

An updated product entry is CICS Performance Analyzer version 1.3, which now boasts hooks into the WebSphere and MQ management infrastructures, among other features. “What we are adding in this release is this three things; historical data capture and storage; statistical analysis; and integration with the other performance analysis products within IBM, in particular looking at integration with the TDS 390 product from Tivoli.”

Finally, Big Blue announced an update for a venerable tool, IBM Session Manager, a product that provides single-terminal access to multiple mainframe systems. “We’ve added a complete end-user customization of the panels and menus,” says Thomas. “Previously, [Session Manager] required a system administrator to customize the Session Manager operation for each class of user and each individual user, if it got down to that level. Now we’re going to give the end user the ability to customize the access to various back end systems directly, so they can change the look and feel of the menus as well as which CICS transactions they actually have access to.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.