Armed with a recent member survey, "The New Mainframe: Data Integration and Service-Oriented Architecture, Big Iron Style" that indicates that its members take an active role in SOA development in their businesses, SHARE is focusing on SOA education at its two annual conferences. There are more than 40 sessions in a track covering "The SOA Journey" for mainframers at the SHARE conference in Orlando, FL, later this month. Similar educational sessions are scheduled for the second conference in August.
In the survey conducted during this past summer and published last fall, almost one out of four respondents' companies had SOA projects already in progress, and another third were planning or considering SOA implementations. Far from the usual depiction of legacy as part of the supporting cast, at least half of those surveyed said mainframes will play a central role in SOA.
While SOA is usually associated with Java and .NET rather than mainframe COBOL, Pamela Taylor, vice president of SHARE, said the results of the survey should not be that surprising given the platform agnostic nature of SOA.
"The interesting thing from our perspective is the whole SOA journey is not platform specific," she said in an interview this week. "The real thing we took away from the survey is the things you need to do for SOA are almost all platform agnostic. You want to think about SOA the same way whether you're deploying things on the mainframe, or distributed system or app server, or whether the data is being accessed from mainframe sources and served up through Web sources or whether it's a transaction that occurs though a Web interface that has to be propagated into a mainframe application, it really is independent of any platform."
The mainframe comes into play in SOA, despite the fact that it is not the latest and greatest technology, but because for many large and even medium-sized businesses that is where the data resides, Taylor said.
"There really is an enormous amount of data that the mainframe is the system of record for," she explained. "That data is being delivered to a wide range of applications. What people are discovering as they are starting to look at SOA or even starting down that path is that they have to acknowledge that that is the state of affairs. They have to plan their SOA initiatives with that in mind."
But it isn't just legacy DB2 databases that puts the mainframe into a central role in SOA, its also the transaction processing power of some COBOL applications that Taylor sees doing the heavy lifting behind the rich Internet application (RIA) accessed by a notebook PC.
"With many of the transactions that may be front-ended on the Web or otherwise presented to the end users through a Web interface or service interface, quite often those transactions are executed on the mainframe in the back office," she said. "So as you start thinking about how you are going to architect a service-oriented environment those linkages are very critical."
On the SOA journey, Taylor sees several paths, some of which are obvious and some not.
Some SHARE members are taking a top down approach with over-arching enterprise architecture that pushes SOA standards and best practices down to the application developers, she said. Other members are taking a grassroots approach, which is more focused on departmental projects.
She thinks the grass roots approach, sometimes called guerilla SOA, may have been under represented in the survey. What Taylor refers to as "pockets of innovation" may be operating under the radar.
"One of the interesting things I noted in the survey was the number of respondents that said they didn't know or weren't doing anything regarding SOA in their organization," she said. "I truly suspect that it was going on behind the scenes. Depending on the person responding to the survey, they might not be involved and so they do know that it is going on in their organization."