Mainframe Strategy - Business Integration

WHAT IS BUSINESS INTEGRATION?
It is the big buzz word that's been going round for some time now and it shows that sanity is returning to Enterprise Computing. They said mainframes would die, they said COBOL would die but they were wrong.

There are many core legacy applications, developed over many years in large businesses and most of the established big players around the world could not begin to consider re-engineering these core applications. It is widely accepted now that it would not provide a cost benefit. The philosophy behind Business Integration accepts this and instead focuses on flexible, scaleable and secure access to this base functionality, within an overall framework that integrates systems, data, applications, processes and people inside and outside the organisation.

SOA
To build this new universe you need a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) - this architecture puts Business process at its heart and allows Business software services to be used as reusable building blocks. SOA is in fact the new form of distributed computing required to make Business Integration a reality. Everyone is at it - Examples are IBM's Websphere, Microsoft's BIZTALK, Oracle's WebLogic and SAP's NetWeaver. As usual some are better than others at applying open standards such as the SUN initiated JSR 208 (Java Business Integration) which extends J2EETM and J2SETM with business integration SPIs.

Legacy maintenance
Typically an enterprise spends between 70 - 80% of their IT budget maintaining their core legacy systems but the IT departments are being pressed to deliver a huge variety of new front end and cross application/data projects with the 20 - 30% left over and without disrupting their core systems. Examples of these new enterprise projects include -
Supply Chain Integration - e.g. Standardised messaging between Suppliers and Manufacturer covering the complete relationship - invoicing, quoting, order tracking etc.
Customer self service portals - e.g. Web Insurance quotes
Internal Information Portals - e.g Call Centre Customer Enquiry

Given the financial constraints and the non-disruptive approach, you will probably have to find a way to do Business Integration incrementally - start small and then accelerate. This must be a prime consideration when deciding on which vendor to use.

What are the first steps towards Business Integration ?
Your existing "world" will probably have to be hosed down and modernised. In this case IBMs argument for backing the mainframe is a strong one. They suggest that you seriously consider bringing back your key distributed systems into a "virtualised" network running on your z-series or z9. Here you can harness the power of the mainframe, with superfast Hipersockets connecting your zLinux, zAAP (Java execution environment), and z/OS,S/390 servers. Your main applications are placed close to the data which decreases complexity and increases security. Web applications in particular will benefit from this access to mainframe speeds and security.

If you go down this route then there is not really any SOA competition to IBMs Websphere.

This of course is not the only route, this has been IBM's hard sell strategy since 2006 and they would want the z9 and zSeries mainframes at the heart of things wouldn't they? But the argument is compelling if you have a mainframe then use it to its maximum potential. However you may have already invested heavily in a mixed infrastructure and there are options outside the mainframe, e.g Microsoft's BIZTALK is a strong SOA contender on completeness and cost that runs on Windows Intel based Servers, but is more focused on the Small to Medium Business market. You can read Microsoft's pitch for BIZTALK at www.microsoft.com/biztalk/default.mspx.

What is Virtualization ?
This is the server strategy IBM hope you will adopt in your bid to simplify your IT environment and achieve the goal of Business Integration. It is a simple concept: Put your distributed servers back on the mainframe as 'virtual servers' - making use as necessary of plug in Integrated Facilities for Linux Processing Units, zAAPs (Java engines) and discreet z/OS LPARS and maximise speed with Hipersockets.