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For IBM, SOAs Are The Mainframe Squeeze

NEW YORK -- With placement on more than 90 percent of the world's top 25 retail companies, who said the IBM mainframe is going the way of the dodo?

That was the theme of a recent IBM System z mainframe software summit, where Executive Vice President Steve Mills, zSeries General Manager Jim Stallings and other IBM software executives convened to talk up the tools that run on Big Iron.

Acknowledging that rivals have been injecting venom about the viability of mainframes in a world in love with modular computing hardware, Mills and Stallings made their case for how the mainframe is meeting and surpassing expectations.

The executives cited MIPs increases in recent quarters and played videos of adoring mainframe customers.

The meeting comes after IBM had a year under its built of selling the z9, a mainframe designed with security and scalability in mind.

Mindful that the mainframe is an elder statesman among computer servers, the key selling point for IBM is that the z9 mainframe is primed to power modern service-oriented architectures (SOA).

SOAs are distributed computing models capable of opening up access to different applications and executing vast numbers of transactions.

To highlight integration for the z9 mainframe, Mills introduced the IBM Rational COBOL Generation tools.

Created at an IBM software development lab in Raleigh, N.C., these tools allow programmers using Java, VisualBasic, PL/1 and COBOL to access data written in COBOL applications.

Allowing programmers to tap into customer and financial data written in legacy COBOL software is a prime example of the integration attributes of an SOA.

Pund-IT analyst Charles King said Mills' pitch for the z9 as an SOA platform was compelling.

"One of the reasons the mainframe is still around is you have petabytes of legacy data and legacy applications," King said after the event.

"If you're talking about helping a customer break into the great, wide wonderful world of SOA, if you're truly helping them to move into this new method of doing business, you have to figure out a way for them to leverage that legacy information. If an SOA can revitalize something like COBOL then maybe they're really on to something here."

From Big Blue's WebSphere line, Mills introduced versions of IBM's business process software tailored for the z9 system.

WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus z for System z integrates applications and services in an SOA while the WebSphere Process Server for z ties data from mainframes to business processes.

One scenario that fits this bill would be when an online credit card purchased triggers a status check for inventory and shipping. Both products will be available next month.

Available later this year, WebSphere Portal for z/OS merges different applications in an SOA and renders the information palatable to customers based on preferences.

On the database side, DB2 Viper for z/OS data server will bring unstructured data such as e-mail, images, audio and video into collision with relational info from databases. DB2 Viper will support IBM's zIIP specialty processor pack to minimize data duplication.

Mills also announced Tivoli Federated Identity Manager for z/OS, a tool that secures transactions across mainframes through SOAs. This is also slated for a late 2006 release.

King reflected on the changes to the IBM mainframe over the last year.

"What I thought was interesting was [IBM] built a logical chain from traditional mainframe to the z9," said King. "It's a substantially different platform, but it's got all of the traditional mainframe structural underpinnings.

"It's almost like they had a very solid foundation for a house that needed severe updating and in some cases they knocked parts of it down and rebuilt it from scratch. But the foundation is still there."