IBM Announces Mainframe Tools For SOA Development

IBM on Wednesday announced a series of upgrades to its Rational software development tools as a part of its Mainframe Simplification program.

Far from abandoning or migrating applications off the mainframe, these tools are designed to lengthen the life span of mainframe COBOL applications and move them into a service-oriented-architecture (SOA) world.

IBM announced its $100 million Mainframe Simplification program in 2006 as a means to shorten deployment cycles for its System z mainframes and help developers with diverse technical backgrounds deal with COBOL, an older language that has given way to more popular modern languages like Java and C++.

The software side of that initiative involves helping developers modernize their aging but still useful COBOL apps.

“The mainframe has been around a long time and is a huge workhorse. Having been around so long, there’s a lot of code that has been updated over the years, and some of those folks weren’t as knowledgeable as the ones who wrote it,” said Dave Locke, marketing director at IBM Rational.

Phillip Murphy, principal analyst for Forrester Research, agreed that there’s a lot of life still left in the mainframe, not for the lack of effort by other platform vendors to kill it or pretend it no longer exists, and is still relevant.

“The mainframe MIPS are still running the large bulk of the Fortune 2000 businesses,” he told “I think to the extent companies will use both mainframe MIPS to run back-engine and newer workloads and mix that with other workloads, clients need a toolset that won’t discriminate based on platform.”

That’s the whole point of IBM Rational Developer for System z v7.1, available Wednesday, which simplifies interoperability with legacy processing and data. This will allow developers to expose existing software applications securely and without requiring applications to be rewritten for use in a SOA environment.

“The goal here is to provide tooling to understand the code that’s there and make them more Web-based through SOA or other models,” said Locke. “Part of the transition is to help developers be more effective with that existing code.”

The second part of the announcement is IBM Rational Business Developer Extension v7.0, also released Wednesday, an update to the Eclipse plug-in that supports IBM’s Enterprise Generation Language (EGL) for application development. EGL is a 4GL  business development language that works in Rational developer tools and lets the developer generate either Java- or COBOL-executable code.

IBM also announced the Rational Transformation Workbench v3.1 for December release, which will help a programmer unfamiliar with an application or system collect the business processes and the technical makeup so they can get a better grip on what the code actually does.

The real problem with old code isn’t that there aren’t people with the skills to work with it, it’s that the people who knew the code well are gone, Murphy said.

“When people talk about legacy skills issues, what they are saying is we don’t know how this works any more. The original author of the code has moved on, and the people who came in and learned it have moved on. We have third- and fourth-generation knowledge of existing apps and code,” he said.

It’s a loss of generational knowledge that’s the problem, not a lack of COBOL skill, and it’s not confined to the mainframe. “Java is 10 years old and has the same issues. This isn’t a problem where we can get rid of COBOL and the problem is gone forever. It’s there for C and VB and will be there for Java. It’s a perpetual problem,” he said.

That is the goal behind IBM’s initiative, said Locke. “There are times that you should abandon ship on code and rewrite it, and there are times when you want to leverage code and know how it works,” he said.

IBM also announced IBM Enterprise COBOL for z/OS v4.1 and IBM Enterprise PL/I for z/OS v3.7 compilers, which integrate System z applications with Web-oriented business processes and simplify the componentization of COBOL and PL/I applications for SOA.

Finally, the company announced Software Configuration and Library Manager (SCLM) Advanced Edition for z/OS V1.2, available Wednesday, which provides a centralized software configuration management and code repository for building z/OS applications.

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