Evangelizing Mainframe
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Mainframe on a Phone

What I’m suggesting in this blog is that there are a number of ways of interacting with a mainframe from your smartphone. I’m also suggesting that there are already ways to monitor and control your mainframe from your smartphone. This gives you the control of being onsite plus all the convenience of being anywhere else—so long as you have a signal or Wi-Fi. And you may not want to limit yourself to just your phone, you might find it more convenient to use an iPad or other tablet device with its bigger screen to see more of what’s going on.

You might think it very handy to have an app that sat on your phone or tablet and just showed green the whole time until there was a network problem or whatever and then went through the traffic lights to red. That way you would know there was something going on and could take appropriate steps to fix it.

But what if you already had access to something that could do that? What if you didn’t need to go through the hassle of paying for your app? What if it was there, waiting for you to use it? How cool would that be?

In a way it already is—because smartphones and tablets come with browsers and you can use those browsers to access the information you need. Users of software like William Data Systems’ (WDS) ZEN network management suite have been doing that for more than a year already.

WDS started in 1995 with EXIGENCE, its network tracing software. Back then, like everything else, it had a 3270-based user interface. Last August, at the Boston SHARE conference, WDS demonstrated the renamed and enhanced ZEN z/OS network management suite on an iPad. With the larger screen than an iPhone, it’s much easier to drill down on the iPad to find where a problem is and take remedial action. In March this year, WDS was demonstrating core functions of ZEN on iPhones, as well as Blackberry and Android devices.

I’m sure other vendors are looking to make the best use of smartphones and tablets as ways of monitoring and correcting problems as they occur on their mainframes. For example, the IBM developerWorks site has information about using an iPhone to access COBOL/CICS/VSAM, COBOL/IMS, and RPG. You can see this in action on YouTube for:


If you really want to use an app, there’s the “Are You IMS?” for iPad and iPhone. This app tests your knowledge in a fun way, providing a range of multiple-choice questions about IMS.

But mainframe and smartphone synergy doesn’t end there. In recent years, a great deal of work has been carried out to create service oriented architecture (SOA) front-ends to CICS or IMS transactions so that customers, users and other stakeholders can access the information they need without directly connecting to the mainframe. As a result, it’s now commonplace for users to access information through a browser on a PC somewhere.

It’s important that the necessary security checks take place, however. Once that’s done, there is little difference in terms of the user experience in accessing data from a PC or from a tablet or smartphone. The smartphone obviously has a much smaller screen size, but depending on the type of information and the way it is presented, there’s no reason customers can’t interact from their phones. There’s also no reason appropriate style sheets can’t be accessed ensuring the smartphone screen is readable. And nowadays, we’re all familiar with the finger swipes necessary to enlarge portions of the screen to make the information larger and clearer.

All too often, the mainframe can be treated as “your dad’s technology” (my appreciation to Mark Lillycrop at Arcati Ltd. for that comment) by people who’ve never worked on one and don’t understand the benefits it can bring. How up-to-date are mainframe technical people going to look when they can get out their phones or tablets and connect to that powerful mainframe and fix potential problems before they escalate? And how enticing for youngsters to see people accessing data located on a mainframe—potentially locked in DB2 or CICS—from the convenience of their phone. It’s going to help recruitment from universities, and we might even see it on TV or in the movies! But it’s possible now.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 10/18/2011 7:39:07 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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