Today’s mainframes often run hundreds of applications, many of which need to be used by a wide number of staff across the enterprise. So what are the most common ways of delivering access to mainframe applications, and are there any efficient shortcuts?
One common option is to install 3270 terminal emulation software on computers throughout the enterprise. For example, one large insurance company I know of has deployed terminal emulators on thousands of desktop computers so customer service agents can generate insurance quotes via the quotes engine that runs on the mainframe.
However, there is a significant cost in software licensing and maintenance if you decide to deploy terminal emulation, especially if it runs to hundreds or thousands of computers.
Another approach is to Web-enable mainframe applications to make them easily accessible using any device with a Web browser.
Many banks have gone out of their way to write easy-to-use Web front ends for their key customer-facing applications. But they may have hundreds of other internal applications for which it would be difficult to justify the costs of doing this. Creating a customized Web interface for a mainframe application can soak up time and resources. You need to put an API in place, use Web server middleware and build new webpages. It could take weeks or months, depending on how complex the application.
One shortcut is to use session management software with a Web interface as an instant way of Web-enabling mainframe applications, without changing the underlying application or creating a new interface. It simply presents the user with a green screen that responds to mouse clicks and touch screens so it can be used by any modern PC or mobile device. And it avoids the expense of deploying terminal emulators.
This approach is particularly useful where users need to access mainframe applications on the go. We know of companies in the manufacturing sector who used to walk the factory floor writing information on pieces of paper because they could only enter data into the mainframe once they got back to their desktop PCs running terminal emulators. Now they can use session management software through a Web interface to enter the data directly into the mainframe application from the shop floor, using any mobile device. As a result they are saving time and increasing efficiency.
It’s possible to use other shortcuts to take you a step beyond accessing the mainframe’s traditional green screen and create a more modern look and feel to the application without creating a whole new web interface from scratch.
Software products can be used that not only automatically render your existing 3270 interfaces as HTML, but also allow you to add customization to improve usability, such as merging several mainframe screens into one so it’s less cumbersome moving through the application. You can also create drop down menus, turn commands into icons so that users do not have to enter commands to navigate the application, or add features common in modern Web interfaces, such as pop-up calendars and calculators. It is even possible to connect the mainframe application to social networks or to add email functionality to an application. So—to return to our previous example—customer service agents would be able to email customers with quotes generated via the mainframe while still in the mainframe application.
Accessibility a Priority
Today, in addition to continuing to quietly support the many business critical core applications that mainframes have always done, the platform is being called on to do more. In a survey of mainframe customers at Guide Share Europe
last year, 72 percent revealed their z/OS system supports Web or mobile applications. The mainframe’s versatility and reliability mean that it is inevitable that customers ask it to run additional applications. With the platform seemingly doing more than ever, finding easy, cost-effective ways to make it accessible throughout the enterprise is becoming a big priority.
Keith Banham has worked in IT for more than 30 years and is the R&D manager at Macro 4, responsible for the company's mainframe suite of products. Keith started as an Assembler programmer at a major bank and during his 29 years at Macro 4 has worked on many of the company’s solutions for application lifecycle management, application performance management, document management and session management. One of his recent roles was the modernization of these solutions by building Web, Eclipse and mobile interfaces, as well as the modernization of Macro 4’s internal mainframe development environments.