Improving Mobile Access to Mainframe Assets

Mobile computing has had a seismic impact on IT and modern computing architecture… and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – have overtaken traditional computing devices, such as desktop and laptop computers, in terms of how we interact with service providers and retailers. And this transition is even more pronounced among the young. It is not uncommon for a smartphone to be used non-stop during the course of the day, not just for making calls, sending and receiving texts, and keeping up with email, but also to shop for the best price, make purchases, check bank balances, make travel arrangements, and more.

Indeed, the number of mobile, networked Internet devices now exceeds the global human population. That means that there are more interconnected devices out there than there are people to use them. And this gap will only widen as the Internet of Things picks up speed, causing us to connect everything to the Internet.

But this post features “mainframe” in its title, so why am I spending time talking to you about mobile computing? After all, nobody is hoisting an IBM z16 on their back and taking it with them like they do their smartphones and tablets, right?

While it certainly is true that the mainframe does not lend itself to being easily transported, the information it contains still needs to be made available to mobile applications. After all, the mainframe offers the pinnacle in RAS (reliability, availability, and scalability), which means that many large and important organizations host their mission-critical applications and data on the mainframe. Banking, insurance, airlines, utilities, large retail organization, and government agencies are all big mainframe users. And consumers want to access most of this information via their smartphones. Hence, organizations want to make the enterprise data on their mainframe systems easier for mobile devices to access.

The mainframe and z/OS have a long history of providing critical business value with transaction processing systems like CICS, IMS/TM, and IBM MQ. And the transactions processed by these systems are often backed by Db2 and IMS databases. The applications and databases hosted on mainframe systems provide a rich tapestry of helpful information that mobile users want to access.

But how can mobile devices connect to the System z platform consistently and effectively? Mobile devices use standard protocols and data format packaging, but z/OS systems vary in their support of and requirements for these formats. Wouldn’t it be better if there were a single interface on z/OS that accepts standard mobile protocols and formats that can interact with multiple systems on the mainframe? The interface would perform any needed data conversion, authorization services, and activity tracking using SMF.

That describes IBM z/OS Connect – providing a common and consistent interface for mobile access. No, DBAs, I am not talking about Db2 Connect; that is entirely different. IBM Db2 Connect is a gateway that enables applications executing on non-mainframe platforms to access Db2 for z/OS databases. And that is helpful, but z/OS Connect provides different capabilities.

So, what is z/OS Connect? You can use it to create efficient and scalable APIs for mobile and cloud applications to access your IBM subsystems and data. The z/OS Connect native server runs as a z/OS application and provides RESTful API access to z/OS applications and data hosted in mainframe subsystems. The framework offers concurrent access, through a common interface, to multiple z/OS subsystems. The z/OS Connect native server also provides the capability for CICS and z/OS applications to access any RESTful endpoint, inside or outside z/OS, through RESTful APIs with JSON formatted messages.

So, at a high level, IBM z/OS Connect enables connectivity between mobile applications and backend z/OS systems. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps the following diagram will help:

Mobile connectivity to the mainframe is enabled by configuring services that define the data transformation rules from JSON messages to mainframe language structures. The z/OS Connect server understands how to connect to the back-end systems. And you can deploy your z/OS Connect APIs as isolated secure microservices, improving agility throughout your enterprise.

With z/OS Connect, a developer can create RESTful APIs from traditional z/OS-based assets whether or not they have z/OS coding skills. The benefit then is that z/OS Connect makes it possible for mobile and cloud application developers to incorporate z/OS data and transactions into their applications without the need to understand z/OS subsystems.

If you have CICS, WebSphere Application Server (WAS), or IMS’s mobile feature pack, you have access to z/OS Connect. Otherwise, purchasing a WAS or WAS Liberty profile license is necessary. WAS Liberty profile is a component-based runtime for Java web and enterprise applications.

Another benefit for cost-conscious organizations is that the z/OS Connect workload is eligible to run on zIIP engines, so it should not be responsible for running up your monthly software bill. ­­

Of course, z/OS Connect offers numerous additional features, including interceptors for security and auditing requirements, integration with IBM API management, and a discovery service that easily identifies the services defined within z/OS Connect.

The bottom line is that z/OS Connect can simplify exposing important mission-critical systems and data on the mainframe to mobile computing applications. And that is important because the future… not to mention the present… is all about mobility!

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