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A New Dawn

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:37 PM


When it comes to an enterprise business system as long-established as the mainframe-spanning nearly 50 years now-users can routinely encounter a host of legacy applications and development tools that seem almost archaic when compared to the OSs, applications and development tools accessed today on other platforms.

However, legacy mainframe applications and tools remain in use for a variety of perfectly good reasons, not the least of which being familiarity-many green-screen apps were developed in-house-functionality, ease-of-use, robustness and overall stability. Many companies still use 3270 green-screen applications and tools to access mainframe functions and capabilities for developing new and maintaining core business applications.

As a text-based UI, green-screen emulation offers some advantages over more familiar modern GUIs, particularly for high-volume data entry purposes, but also in terms of general ease-of-use with its consistent layout and lack of scrolling.

Additionally, green-screen development tools such as Interactive System Productivity Facility (ISPF) are still widely used by System z development teams. "While a textual UI may always seem more primitive, once you get beyond that stigma there's definitely an efficiency to it that's hard to break away from," says Scott Greer, a UI architecture developer for IBM's Rational Software group. "After a certain amount of experience with a text UI, people tend to memorize the layout, the content, and the commands to the point that navigation becomes second nature."

Green-screen advantages and user devotion notwithstanding, the simple fact is businesses increasingly must move forward and evolve to stay competitive, provide greater access-to Web- and mobile-based users, for example-attract new development talent, etc. The majority of new and upcoming business computing professionals are familiar with and gravitate toward modernized apps and GUIs.

Therefore, it's not surprising Web-based GUIs are gradually usurping green-screen and text-UI applications. Both IBM and outside vendors offer a variety of modernization options that provide updated tools for accessing and developing mainframe applications. In some cases, modernized Web UIs put a new face on existing green-screen applications. Other applications and development tools bypass the green screen entirely, providing a separate platform for developing, maintaining and debugging mainframe applications.

"There are a lot of apps still out there people are using that can be modernized," says Will Smythe, product manager for IBM's Rational Software group. "IBM Rational has a set of products aimed at modernizing applications and the way applications are developed. And although these tools have existed for awhile, customers are still just learning about them for the first time."

Updating the mainframe is part of a larger IBM-wide Rational initiative dubbed enterprise modernization (EM), intended to deliver solutions that allow customers to gradually update critical IT systems to modern architectures and technologies in a cost- effective manner. By leveraging Rational EM products, customers can inject new life into their existing application portfolio while leveraging modern skills to help chart an ongoing innovation and modernization roadmap.

The primary Rational mainframe EM application development product of note is Rational Developer for System z (RDz), an Eclipse-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is designed to simplify, improve and modernize the z/OS programmer experience, while still allowing the use of more legacy tools.

"RDz has tools for traditional COBOL, PL/I, and Assembler application development in an Eclipse-based environment," says Smythe. "But it also has tools for doing Web-SOA, Web 2.0. So, you can think of it as an all-in-one package for multi-platform development, where traditional applications are leveraged in new, modern solutions. There's also a flavor of RDz that features the EGL open- source programming language. EGL is an ideal technology for all types of developers, but specifically allows developers with traditional skills to do Web and SOA development. EGL also improves deployment flexibility with its ability to compile into standard Java, JavaScript, or COBOL."

With this focus on modernization, mainframe green- screen application and development tool purists can nevertheless rest easy. Legacy mainframe applications and tools will continue to be available for the foreseeable future, and rumors about IBM retooling its green screen are unfounded. Still, in an ongoing effort to dispel the persistent but unwarranted narrative of the mainframe as a "dinosaur," IBM's Rational Software and its EM initiative will continue to develop and refine modernization tools for the next generation of mainframe professionals. Raising awareness of the EM solutions will be important as the mainframe makes inroads into emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and elsewhere.

"There's a case to be made that some mainframe users out there have been so focused on legacy applications and development tools that they're unaware of the many modernization tools available, both from IBM and other vendors," says Smythe. "I've seen large IBM shops that have huge investments in WebSphere, CICS, System z, but they had no clue that Rational has solutions that apply to them in the System z development space, or other tools for modernization like HATS or EGL."

Destination z will explore IBM Rational EM solutions-such as RDz, HATS and EGL-in greater detail in a series of articles that highlight the modernization applications and tools available in the mainframe space.