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Mainframe Meets MobileFirst

IBM initiative aims to make mobile more manageable

5/22/2013 1:01:01 AM | Organizations have been using the System z platform with mobile transactions for years, certainly long before the latest generation of smartphones and tablets, and the BYOD rave. Now IBM wants to make it easier to do so through its latest initiative, MobileFirst.

IBM isn’t the only vendor working the System z mobile market. Others have too. MobileFirst, however, might be the most comprehensive. It promises one-stop shopping for everything from management of mobile devices to the creation of new mobile commerce apps. Yet, despite its central role, the MobileFirst announcement never mentioned the System z platform.

Something like MobileFirst, however, might benefit diehard System z shops that already offer mobile apps and connect mobile transactions to the System z, particularly big banks although many have managed quite well without MobileFirst. Most of them are way in front when it comes to processing mobile transactions through the mainframe; the applications are long built and deployed. Granted most of those initial apps are Web services-oriented and rely on browser-based Web services, unlike the latest mobile apps that provide a slick phone-specific user experience. Still, they’re generating considerable amounts of System z processing.

SunTrust in Atlanta, is typical. A stalwart mainframe shop, it handles upwards of 350,000 mobile transactions daily through its System z, where it runs third-party middleware to pass mobile transactions to CICS on the mainframe, coordinate the transactions, and eliminate any points of failure.

There are many ways to connect the System z platform to mobile, but it almost always comes down to some form of Web service connecting through a gateway or middleware. For example, one large online UK retailer adds a thin layer to its normal Web systems to identify mobile or tablet devices. It then renders appropriate images. The resulting transactions run through MQ Series to connect with its zEnterprise 196 and zEnterprise EC12, the same as for non-mobile Web business.

Pervasive Mobility
System z shops are interested in mobile because that’s increasingly where their customers are. According to IBM, 75 percent of mobile shoppers take action after receiving a location-based message. And it’s growing fast—with a 96 percent year-to-year increase in mobile Cyber Monday sales from 2011 and 2012 alone.

Mobile plays to the System z strengths. The difference is that new mobile devices are sleek, can provide a rich experience, and are relatively cheap. The data and business logic, however, already reside on the System z.

With mobile “the System z platform remains the system of record; it holds the data fundamental to the business, transactions that provide access to that data already run on System z, and security already is in place,” says Romney White, IBM senior technical staff member, System z Architecture and Technology.

The appeal of the System z for mobile is the same as what has attracted companies to the mainframe for years—scalability, availability, reliability and security. From a banking point of view, large banks expect the same for mobile computing. They set the bar high, need flexibility and scalability, and require the right security—all the proven System z attributes.

Mobile Security and Scalability
When it comes to mobility, the demand for security may even be greater, if such is possible. Mobile devices are just starting to mature in terms of security. Many don’t yet encrypt data. They are prone to physical loss, leading them to fall into the hands of others. For data center managers expecting System z security capabilities, however, mobile can be a shock.

IBM promises to address security through its MobileFirst platform initiative:

• Option to remotely wipe corporate data
• Configuration/enforcement of password policies, encryption, VPN access
• Context-aware risk-based access control
• Mobile threat protection
• Strong session management and single sign-on
• Vulnerability analysis for mobile apps
• Visibility and analysis of security events involving the device, network, user and app behavior

When it comes to mobility in general and security in particular, “mobility is just in the early innings,” says Saran Bommakanti, program manager, IBM System z Banking.

As for scalability and operations, mobility will change things, although not necessarily as you might expect. Mobility, for instance, may not alter your transaction volumes, capacity needs, or performance. Rather, it may simply shift traffic that came in through green screens or the ATM network to the mobile gateway and middleware.

One thing that happens, however, is the traditional operational window disappears. Mobility enables users to access data and conduct transactions anytime, White notes, essentially extending business hours to 24-7. Expect more transactions in aggregate but spread throughout a longer day. Globally, mobile provides the opportunity for companies, particularly banks, to provide services to more individuals, those who previously had no access during regular hours.

Alan Radding is a Newton, Mass.-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology. Over the years his writing has appeared in a wide range of publications including the New York Times, CFO Magazine, CIO Magazine and Information Week. He can be reached through his Web site, http://technologywriter.com.

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