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Mainframes to Mobility

Legacy modernization using hybrid mobile applications

Mainframes - The First Cloud
Much of the success of the Cloud delivery model is attributed to the implementation of similar concepts through mainframe computing several years back. The concepts of multi-tenancy, workload management, virtualization, and chargeback accounting all are basic tenants of the mainframe.

Over the years mainframes have reinvented themselves to continue to find a place in the enterprise landscape. Recent announcements from IBM on System Z, IBM zEnterprise 196 (z196), IBM zEnterprise 114 (z114) have laid a path for enterprises to adopt Private Clouds using mainframes. The zEnterprise family provides a system designed specifically to address IaaS on a private heterogeneous cloud where the components run on the same architecture, a single hardware or operating system platform. The private cloud can be hosted within the organization or through an external provider.

Enterprise Mobility & Hybrid Applications
Enterprise mobility projects are spreading as more and more businesses are looking to provide mobility solutions for their clients to increase the market share and stay with the competition. There are multiple types of enterprise bobile applications:

  • Native Applications: Developed for a specific platform and device and installed on the device.
  • Web Applications: Typical enterprise web applications that can be accessed by the web browser available in the hand held device
  • Hybrid Applications: As per the name, it combines both native and web applications. Hybrid Mobile Applications are essentially mobile websites running within an application that has a single web view control.

The native applications are the most preferred mobile application type from the user experience (UX) perspective; however, they may have a high turnaround and are high in cost of implementation towards multiple mobile devices and platforms. Hence more and more enterprises are leaning toward hybrid applications to get the best of both worlds. That is to provide native mobile functionalities to improve the user experience and, at the same time, make the existing enterprise applications wrapped as part of the hybrid application so that they don't spend time on already existing functionalities.

The basic concept of a hybrid application is to wrap a mobile-optimized Web application in a device-specific native application shell. The native application shell hosts a Web browser control that's configured to launch the specific mobile application URL when the shell application launches. Other UI elements can be provided in the native application shell as needed, but only the Web browser control is required. The native Web browser control then listens to the URLs being requested as the user navigates the site. When the user requests a specific URL that requires native functionality, the Web browser control interrupts the navigation event and instead invokes the native functionality. As the user completes the native process, the application navigates the Web browser control back into the Web site flow in the appropriate location.

Mainframe Green Terminals & Screen Scraping
IBM 3270 terminals popularly known as green terminals are the basic mode of invoking UI centric applications that run on mainframes. Traditionally CICS, IMS DC are the platforms used to develop UI screens in the mainframe. Due to robustness these screens were able to take care of several mission-critical transactions in industries like the airlines and banking over a period.

However, due to the way they are character-oriented and can accommodate screen elements as per a 24X80 screen, these UI systems fade over time and have been modernized toward Internet-based client systems. Most enterprises that have mainframe UI investments went through the same issues when migrating the green terminals to web-based interfaces like they are now facing in migrating their web screens to mobile.

One of the techniques used in the last decade to convert mainframe applications to a web-based UI is called Screen Scraping. "Screen scraping" involves the use of row/column coordinates within a program to create a relationship between (or "bind") data within a screen buffer to local program variables or events. Screen scraping is a method that allows a (typically) thin client to process in the middle of a cics/3270 conversation. On the mainframe (CICS) side of the conversation it appears that there is a 3270 terminal. On the client (windows pc), there is a GUI presentation rather than 24x80 text. The screen-scraping code "scrapes" the data portion from the 3270 output and passes it to the presentation code on the client. When the user keys data or clicks on some feature, the user input is processed and sent to CICS as though the input was prepared on a 3270.

Mainframe Green Terminals in Hybrid Mobile Applications
It is the complete cycle of change, as the enterprises moved from green terminals to web-based UI where the concentration is to fit more field elements and components on a single screen to make the productivity of the data entry faster. However, in mobility-enabled UI, the screens are not heavyweight with so many data entry options, rather they are light much like their predecessors in older green terminals. The modern mobility applications intelligently package most of the touch sensitivity, camera and other native features of the mobile device along with minimal data entry features of the traditional transaction-based applications toward providing a new user experience for the end users.

For example, a traditional mainframe CICS application may allow the warehouse user to enter the part of a receipt from the vendor one at a time through a green terminal. Now in the mobile-enabled warehouse application the user can use a smartphone to scan the bar code of the incoming part and ultimately the same transaction of entering the CICS application is emulated in the background.

With the combination of a

  • Hybrid Mobile Application Development Platform
  • Screen Scrapping Technologies
  • Traditional Green Terminal Application in Mainframe to perform the core business process

a new set of next generation of Hybrid Mobile Applications can be built, which will use all the native features with respect to data acquisition, but will reuse the complex transaction processing logic behind the screens .

The following are some of the platforms that can facilitate the Hybrid Mobile Applications while bringing the best of business logic implemented in the traditional mainframe screens:

Mobile Enterprise Application Platform, Convertigo Mobilizer
Convertigo offers a core technology platform that can instantly extract and process data from any enterprise data source or application. Convertigo features a unique technology able to to perform dynamic and transactional web scraping from any existing web site or application. Convertigo can also screen scrap mainframe legacy applications. The following are the core aspects of this platform.

  • Mobile enablement of any existing legacy Web or Mainframe application.
  • No need to rewrite legacy and mainframe applications
  • Instant access to any resource --whether or not there is an API
  • You can combine any business logic for reuse across your enterprise
  • Extreme productivity through the ability to write mobile applications in HTML 5 and Javascript instead of complex languages.
  • Native support for all major mobile operating systems -- iOS, Android, BlackBerry

Syclo Agentry Mobile Platform
Agentry Mobile Platform lets enterprises deliver a broad range of mobile applications and effectively manage the complexities of multiple data sources, networks and devices. The platform has a Middle ware layer which can seamlessly connect to multiple enterprise back end sources including Mainframe transactions.

  • With Agentry, you build your application just once and then simply add the device of your choosing to the list of supported platforms. All the screen sets and native device controls get generated automatically.
  • Syclo's SOA solution architecture lets you use the same business logic and core application layers across all supported platforms. A native device client or a web browser is then used to render the application on the device - taking advantage of all the right widgets, OS controls, display settings and built-in peripherals.
  • Syclo is recently acquired by SAP to provide Enterprise Mobility options for its customers, with several of the SAP Installations on Mainframe this move will definitely support the enterprises.

Worklight, An IBM Company
The Worklight Mobile Platform was specifically designed as an ideal MEAP solution. Integrating a robust IDE, server and administration console into one solution, the platform enables the creation, running and management of internal-facing applications that adhere to the goals, business processes and security requirements of the organization.

  • Worklight provides a uniquely flexible mobile IDE, which support cross platform development
  • Choose between web, hybrid or native code to build rich mobile apps with security features that meet user expectations
  • Connect to back-end systems using a Java-based server and adapter files for most common integration protocols
  • Worklight utilizes the PhoneGap development framework to deliver a uniform bridge between standard web technologies (HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript) and the native functions that different mobile platforms provide

Summary
As enterprise mobility quickly picks up, enterprises will face time-to-market concerns as it is directly linked to market share. While the UX (User Experience) is important, enterprises also look for ways and means to reuse the existing critical business logic. In this context the lightweight green terminals of the mainframe era are easy to extend into a hybrid mobile web application by using the screen scraper technologies.

More Stories By Srinivasan Sundara Rajan

Highly passionate about utilizing Digital Technologies to enable next generation enterprise. Believes in enterprise transformation through the Natives (Cloud Native & Mobile Native).

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