Enterprise toolbox: Web-enabling ‘big iron' apps

Let's face it: ‘big iron' business applications are usually large and mission-critical, but also generally the most profitable. Once upon a time, if you wanted to keep your mainframe business applications up to date you had only two choices: to modify or to rewrite.

The growth of Web technologies has created many more options for sites that rely on the big iron as part of their e-business strategy. Those who need to enable Web access to big iron business applications without making major application changes can look to Web-to-host solutions. These solutions leverage the middle tier to manage access to big iron business applications via browsers.

It is also possible to directly Web-enable the big iron. Most big iron operating systems are now outfitted with Web servers, firewall technology, Java, application servers, and more. This technology is a good fit for the corporate intranet and for e-business applications. You can even enable your big iron to interact directly with wireless devices so they can access your e-business applications.

Perhaps you don't feel so comfortable letting business partners and customers directly access your big iron. Yet you want to integrate your big iron into your overall Web strategy. You might choose to go the route of ‘host wrappering'.

In a host-wrappering environment, it is typical to move big iron business logic onto the middle tier and wrap Web technologies around the logic on the middle tier. Mission-critical data is still housed and accessed on the big iron. By going the host-wrappering route, you gain a more modular application framework. Moreover, you are able to update user interfaces with more of a Web look and feel while leaving data intact.

Transformation is another way to integrate the big iron into an e-business strategy. One example can be found in Relativity Technologies' RescueWare (www.relativity.com).

RescueWare can transform big iron business applications (such as Cobol) into e-business applications (such as Java) without changing the core business logic. Alternatively, RescueWare can be used to transform the applications while also extending them to meet new requirements.

Six steps complete a RescueWare transformation, which requires Windows 95/98 or Windows NT and a Microsoft Access or SQL Server database as a repository.

In the first step, developers must inventory and copy big iron source code into the RescueWare repository. The developer will also need some type of host access solution. Step two includes planning and estimation. RescueWare provides a scoring mechanism to help project managers closely determine project length and complexity.

The third step in the process is a detailed analysis of the big iron applications. RescueWare includes tools that let business and systems analysts create CICS (Customer Information Control System) flow diagrams as well as data-flow diagrams. Another included tool, Hyperview, helps developers analyse the source code that will be transformed.

The next step involves data transformation; this may not apply to every site. RescueWare takes sources registered in its repository and generates relational schema that can then be used with many databases.

User interface transformation is the fifth step. RescueWare supplies tools to help analyse existing big iron interfaces. RescueWare can then generate user interface code in several languages, including Java and C++.

The final RescueWare step is to transform the business logic that was identified earlier. Today's big iron integration choices are an improvement over the modification or rewrite options of a few years ago. Whether you choose the Web-to-host route, Web-enable your big iron, use wrappering technology, or transform your big iron business applications altogether, getting the big iron integrated into an e-business strategy is now much easier than in the past. How will you integrate your big iron with the Web?

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