Mainframe and Mobility: Tools and Techniques for Complex Corporate Uses

Accessing your email from your mobile device is only the beginning. Increasingly corporations’ mobile operations are moving into the enterprise realm. Fortunately the tools necessary for provisioning, management, deployment and oversight by the mainframe are tracking this trend. In this post we look at recently-released IBM tools that meet these requirements.

Companies using their mainframes to manage their increasingly complex mobile operations would be interested to learn of the reaction to IBM’s latest System z offering, introduced this summer. Reviewers of the zEnterprise EC12 were impressed by many of its characteristics. There was its CPU performance (25% to 50% better), its faster query function and its sophisticated data warehouse and analytics. All the better, according to IT analyst firm Ptak, Noel & Associates, to speed “cloud deployment of mission critical workloads.”

Yes—Cloud—an entirely appropriate subject for a post on mobility and mainframe. That is because increasingly the two—cloud and mobile—are becoming intertwined in a computing environment, said Bruce Armstrong, Strategy and Design Manager in IBM Software Group. As a result, he said, a greater reliance on the mainframe to manage both is growing. For that reason, new tools and product lines, such as the zEC12, are being developed with an eye to managing both.

Cloud and mobile hit the enterprise scene at roughly the same time, although the acceptance of cloud computing happened faster. “I don’t think there is any more debate about whether the cloud is an acceptable delivery platform and the mainframe has become more recognized as an ideal platform for cloud-based services,” Armstrong said.

What is changing is that mainframers are contending with mobile in a way that they didn’t have to a few years ago. Bring Your Own Device to Work, known as BYOD, has exploded as a trend in only the last few years and corporate apps for customer service and marketing are now ubiquitous—all of which have an impact on the mainframe.  “Companies have just gotten accustomed to cloud computing issues and now mobile has come along,” Armstrong said.

“Now the IT debate is all about connecting cloud and mobile in a seamless manner,” he added, with the mainframe supporting and interweaving the myriad of mobile customer-facing applications and processing billions of transactions per day in the cloud. (Author’s Note: Later in this series, we explore the security and risk management implications of this trend.)

Indeed, some observers of enterprise tech trends claim that mainframers have yet to see the real impact of mobility on the mainframe. Today, we mostly see the impact of people accessing a website or internal databases via BYOD. But soon, the big influence will be mobile applications developed to link IT infrastructure and business architecture.

For example, a mobile app conceivably could be developed for the car rental industry that can handle thousands of locations and a couple million physical assets—i.e. the cars. The app could be used on site to determine which locations are underperforming and which need more cars on hand. Such applications exist, of course—but usually as part of an enterprise resource application on site at headquarters. A mobile version would be geared to accessing a mainframe and crunching data on site in real time with the same back-end access that an ERP application has.

Tools to help mainframers navigate this increasingly complex IT environment that includes mobile and Cloud elements would include virtualization capabilities to support private cloud environments and hybrid clouds and the ability to run complex business analytics and operational analytics on the same platform. 

As one example, “By using Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), a single mainframe can support hundreds or thousands of virtualized Linux machines,” said Charles King, principal of Pund-IT.

Another is the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX), King noted, which lets enterprises deploy and integrate workloads across mainframe, POWER7 and System x servers.

For mobile enterprise application development specifically, there is IBM Worklight, part of the IBM Mobile Foundation rolled out earlier this year, Armstrong says. It offers an extensible environment with maximum code reuse and per-device optimization, extensive libraries and client APIs and a web-based console for real-time analytics, among other features.

The BYOD trend fueled demand for such a package of solutions—along with the mobile apps for B2C and B2B clients that companies feel they must provide now. Testing these apps, of course, must include making sure they run on all of devices and those devices unique hardware characteristics such as cameras and accelerators, Armstrong said.

“The mainframe can be the control point for these devices and they can access mainframe resources or they can connect to cloud resources provided by third parties,” he said.

Which brings Armstrong back to the cloud and its growing intersection with mobile: One such key intersection is the development and testing of enterprise mobility solutions and integrations that make use of cloud-provided apps and data, he says. He pointed to a July 2012 IBM developerWorks survey conducted among more than 4,000 IT professionals, faculty members and students from among the developerWorks community. For cloud adopters, "developing new applications" is expected to be the top activity in the next 24 months, surpassing today's top cloud focus areas of virtualization and storage. In addition, 51% of respondents stated that adopting cloud technology is part of their mobile strategy.

“The ability to develop mobile apps and test with a mainframe’s back end—that is something that a company’s tools need to be able to support,” Armstrong said. “Developing Angry Birds for a mobile phone is a very different game than developing a mobile app that communicates to mainframe data.”

Erika Morphy is a 20-year veteran business journalist who covers Mobility trends & issues for SHARE’s President’s Corner. In her next post, Erika explores tools available for (BYOD) provisioning and use.

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