I doubt there are many IBM z shops today that don’t use mainframe session management software to control and streamline the way users access applications. Most mainframers probably don’t give them a second thought, but some of today’s leading-edge session managers have evolved to provide additional value in new ways, including some smart approaches to tackling application modernization challenges.
The basic job of session management software is to simplify the process of logging into mainframe applications. Once users are signed in to a session manager, they can access all the mainframe applications they are authorized to, without wasting time and effort logging in to and out of each one individually. They can effortlessly switch between applications and cut and paste information from one to the other (unlike most other applications today, it’s still not possible to do this from a green screen mainframe application).
As well as being great for end user productivity, session management software lets the IT team centrally control and monitor permissions and security around which applications individual users can access in line with security and confidentiality policies.
However, as highlighted above, there are session managers out there that have evolved substantially and offer a variety of important additional functionality that was not even on the radar when they were first introduced. Here are some examples of what is now on offer if you look around:
Providing a Key Modernization Shortcut
Mainframe modernization has been an important aim of mainframe shops over the last decade as we try to make working with the mainframe easier for today’s generation of corporate workers, brought up on Windows applications and wedded to their tablets and mobile phones. Some advanced session managers provide a handy modernization shortcut: they offer the option of modern menu-driven interfaces which are more intuitive and easier to navigate, both for newer staff—who may not be familiar with using 3270 green screen interfaces—and experienced mainframers.
Rather than users having to remember what commands to use, these modern interfaces offer ease of use features such as touch-screen functionality for mobile device users, point-and-click navigation and drop-down menus. It’s worth emphasising that even mainframe stalwarts—e.g., systems administrators and operations staff at customer sites who look after the system—are also reporting increased productivity when using web and Eclipse interfaces. They also make it much easier to train new staff on the mainframe.
Supporting Home and Mobile Working
Since the early days of the mainframe, working patterns have undergone a transformation, with home and mobile working now widespread. This is why leading session managers today have embraced another aspect of modernization by incorporating browser-based web and mobile front ends. These allow authorized users to securely access their permitted mainframe applications and stay productive from anywhere with an internet connection. Using a session manager in this way delivers savings in IT resources as it avoids the expense of developing customized web and mobile interfaces for individual applications.
Tracking Application Performance
Because session managers sit between users and the mainframe applications they use, they’re ideally placed to provide a way for mainframe administrators to track and safeguard service levels. Some now come with integrated performance monitoring dashboards that let you monitor key real- time performance metrics such as application response times and user activity. You can quickly answer questions such as how many users are currently logged on to applications, how active they have been and what response times they are experiencing. They should also allow you to set warning thresholds for individual metrics as well as analyze past performance and extrapolate trends so you can take early action to ward off impending performance problems.
With mainframes now often providing the back-end transaction processing to customer-facing web and mobile applications—which can hold sensitive customer data, for example—maintaining security and confidentiality is more important than ever. Session managers are extremely effective when it comes to security, which spares you a lot of time and effort elsewhere. They have a high level of in-built security, including great flexibility to control what individual users can do (right down to commands, editing, etc.). They also provide a useful audit trail of who’s accessed what on the mainframe and exactly what they have been doing. Companies can ‘piggyback’ on this functionality to enjoy similar levels of control when giving users mainframe access through new digital channels. This means less cost, no additional time spent setting up a whole new security mechanism and also complete consistency: whatever a user can do on a 3270 screen they can also do on a web or mobile interface.
Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted those things that are under our noses providing a useful benefit day in and day out. The way that session managers simplify and take the hassle out of mainframe access for millions of mainframe end users is probably one of those things. On top of that, while some session management providers are content to carry on focusing on just these essential benefits, there are increasing examples of session management products that have transformed into tools that are even more useful.
It’s worth taking a second look at the additional functionality and benefits that leading session managers now provide to help modernize applications and improve system performance.
Keith Banham has worked in IT for 35 years and is the R&D manager at Macro 4, responsible for the company's mainframe suite of products. Keith started as an Assembler programmer at a major bank and during his 30 years at Macro 4 has worked on many of the company’s solutions for application lifecycle management, application performance management, document management and session management. One of his recent roles was the modernization of these solutions by building web, Eclipse and mobile interfaces, as well as the modernization of Macro 4’s internal mainframe development environments.