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Thoughts from the Integration Consortium: Mainframe Integration without Compromise

by Integration Consortium

This month's column is contributed by Steve Craggs, European vice chairman of the Integration Consortium.

For many companies, there are strong business imperatives to leverage past IT investments, and nowhere is this more applicable than in unlocking the enormous corporate value bound up in the mainframe and its resources. In order to effectively leverage these investments for increased value, mainframe-based technology, applications and information stores need to be integrated with the distributed IT systems in a two-way street, enabling each environment to benefit from the assets of the other.

Mainframe integration has become a major issue over the last few years and is currently receiving even greater focus due to the rise of the service-oriented architecture (SOA) model for IT operations and its associated promises of productivity gain, risk reduction and business agility. Technologies and tools are freely available in the market to address the challenges of mainframe integration, all the way from modernizing user interfaces to fully integrating mainframe and outboard components together in a truly service-oriented fashion.

But we at the Integration Consortium have become aware of a major a problem. Feedback from our members indicates that although these tools often address the basic, functional requirements of integration, customers are frequently ending up compromising the value delivered by the mainframe to the business.

Mainframe Values

The reason is that companies and their IT organizations that are used to working with mainframes come to expect specific characteristics or "mainframe values" to be associated with any solution that involves the mainframe in order to ensure that service levels are maintained, risk is managed effectively and investments are protected. These mainframe values underpin the company's business expectations and performance and, therefore, any component that is added to mainframe-based operations has to uphold these values because failure to do so will compromise the overall mainframe environment and the service it provides.

Mainframe values include areas such as:

  • Performance
  • Scalability
  • Availability
  • Reliability
  • Recoverability
  • Manageability
  • Security

The issue is that with all these areas, the strength of the operational system is always dictated by the weakest part. For example, if one component is unreliable then the overall system is considered unreliable. If one component does not maintain integrity then integrity is compromised as a whole. If one component is not scalable then the system is not scalable. The net of this is that if mainframe values are not protected, the business value enshrined in the mainframe-based technologies and related investments are put at risk. How does the need to preserve mainframe values affect the area of mainframe integration?

Mainframe Integration without Compromise

As stated earlier, mainframe integration is all about making mainframe applications and resources available to other environments and vice-versa with an integrated operational approach. This leads to a number of specific mainframe integration technologies:

  • Screen-based access to mainframe applications (CICS, IMS, IDMS, Natural, etc.);
  • Publishing mainframe data and applications (screen and business logic) as Web services;
  • Consuming distributed applications and data sources as a Web service from mainframe applications;
  • Direct SQL-style access to mainframe data sources (e.g., DB2, VSAM, IMS DB, Adabas);
  • Mainframe business event correlation and sharing between environments.

Most successful mainframe integration solutions will seek to provide additional value in terms of concealing the complexities within the mainframe under some sort of simple abstraction layer. In fact, the Integration Consortium believes a new category of software is starting to emerge that encompasses this full range of functionality in a comprehensive "mainframe integration suite."

But one of the key decisions to be taken in a mainframe integration scenario is where to provide this abstraction layer; it is on this question that suppliers diverge. Some suppliers of mainframe integration solutions strive to carry out as much activity as possible outside the mainframe, for example, on a workstation-based server; while others prefer to perform this added value functionality in the mainframe environment.

This decision turns out to have a major effect on maintaining mainframe values and thereby achieving mainframe integration without compromise. One illustrative example is that of access to CICS applications. These typically work through a set of user-driven menus, linking multiple different CICS programs to achieve the overall business service.

To make this service available externally requires numerous invocations of different CICS components and in the outboard approach this entails costly communications flows for every step. Contrast this with an inboard solution where the flows are all internal, making use of the mainframe's inherent high-performance capabilities. In addition, the communications flows outboard will generally not have the same level of reliability and integrity as the internal ones.

Another area to consider is bringing together operational execution. In today's event-driven world, business operations need to react to events and occurrences in other processes. If a particular database is updated on the mainframe, this fact may need to be published for outboard environments to pick up. Once again, performance and manageability are best served by inboard monitoring of mainframe resources.

In the area of security, it will be easier to integrate with the mainframe security environment if the main integration work is carried out locally. This same principle applies when considering the fail-safe mission-critical nature of the mainframe. Mainframes are well known for their reliability, recoverability and availability characteristics, so carrying out as much work as possible in that environment will allow these features to inherit these values.

Mainframe-based business services commonly experience excellent levels of availability, performance, availability and all the other mainframe values discussed. But the Integration Consortium believes that companies wishing to leverage the combination of mainframe and distributed investments through the use of mainframe integration technology should consider carefully how the commercially available solutions might impact their mainframe values to avoid the danger of compromising their business operations.


The Integration Consortium is a non-profit, leading industry body responsible for influencing the direction of the integration industry. Its members champion Integration Acumen by establishing standards, guidelines, best practices, research and the articulation of strategic and measurable business benefits. The Integration Consortium's motto is "Forging Integration Value." The mission of the member-driven Integration Consortium is to establish universal seamless integration which engages industry stakeholders from the business and technology community. Among the sectors represented in the Integration Consortium membership are end-user corporations, independent software vendors (ISVs), hardware vendors, system integrators, academic institutions, non-profit institutions and individual members as well as various industry leaders. Information on the Integration Consortium is available at www.integrationconsortium.org.

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