It’s Time for Web Services That Are Useable, Attachmate Says
March 8, 2005 Alex Woodie
Up to this point, Web services have been talked about in terms of how they can technically connect different systems and architectures. But what’s missing from this debate, according to Attachmate, is how end users themselves can benefit from Web services technology. Making it easier for employees who aren’t technologically sophisticated to make and reuse composite applications in a services oriented architecture (SOA) is the focus of Attachmate’s new Synapta product strategy, which it officially unveiled for the first time yesterday.
Attachmate is one of the largest providers of emulation packages for OS/400, mainframe, Unix, Unisys, and Tandem hosts, with a huge installed base of more than 10 million end users. Like its competitors, Attachmate’s offerings range from simple emulators and on-the-fly greenscreen-to-GUI transformation products, to more advanced Web- and SOA-enablement solutions. Synapta is at the uppermost end of Attachmate’s legacy extension product spectrum.
Text.The Synapta product line is not entirely new; it is the new, re-branded name for Attachmate’s previous MyExtra product line. At this point, the functionality in Synapta Service Builder (formerly was MyExtra Smart Connector) and Synapta Presentation Builder (formerly MyExtra Presentation Builder) remains the same.
What is different is how Attachmate is talking about Web services and SOA. Instead of forcing technologically advanced, but difficult to use, Web services products down customers’ throats, Attachmate executives say they are earnestly interested in opening up a two-way dialog about how Web services can be put to the best use by end-users themselves. In this respect, Synapta represents a promise by Attachmate to cut through the Web services hype, and to make the product something that adds value for its users.
The IT Gap
There is an “IT gap” currently separating application developers and the users of those applications, says Markus Nitschke, vice president of corporate marketing at Attachmate. “There’s been a failure in the last couple of years to deliver exact to requirements the end user have put out there” regarding Web services, he says.
This IT gap has had two main effects, Nitschke says. First, it has spawned rogue IT projects that may deliver the functionality users’ need, but it does it outside of any regimented architecture or process. Secondly, the IT gap has resulted in poor uptake by users, and sent user acceptance ratings plunging, he says.
“Moving forward, we’re going to focus on the ‘user centered enterprise,’ and deliver tools that empower the end users,” Nitschke says.
Synapta is Attachmate’s vehicle for regaining Web services credibility. To understand what Attachmate is doing with Synapta, Nitschke breaks down SOA and Web services into three distinct layers.
The first layer is the services layer, and this is where the actual business service and business process is created and defined. Attachmate’s offering for this layer is the Synapta Presentation Builder, which could, for example, be used to isolate the credit check process of an RPG application, and then build Java or .NET hooks into it, so it can be called, as a Web service, by other applications. Attachmate is satisfied with its Presentation Builder technology at this point, and is focusing on other areas of the SOA stack.
The next layer of the stack is the Web services coordination layer. Attachmate does not have a coordination strategy, as there are many good business process manager (BPM) and workflow applications on the market already, Nitschke says.
The third layer of the stack–Web services deliver–is the most important to Attachmate right now, and the layer that the company thinks needs the most work. This piece answers the question of how do you take all these services that have been created and deliver them to the end user.
A New Approach
“A lot of the tools being developed are not user friendly. You need to be familiar with XML code and applications built upon a metamodel,” Nitschke says. The complexity of these tools are the result of a bottom-up approach, where IT personnel consider ways to expose Web services interfaces to assets like their CICS, database, or transaction systems.
Instead of a technology-centered bottom up approach, Attachmate is advocating a top-down approach, where business processes, as defined by users themselves, define what comes next, and what technology best fits the bill. “There’s definitely a shift in the requirements level,” Nitschke says.
In addition to a changing frame of reference, standards and best practices for Web services are still evolving, and do not yet properly address the complex transactional nature of mainframe systems like the iSeries, according to Michael Norring, Attachmate’s vice president of SOA services.
“Basically, whenever you look at software today, there’s a lot of complexity, very much a depth of complexity. Under SOA, you’re still dealing with complexity, but it’s much more narrow in scope,” Norring says. In terms of mainframes, SOA “hasn’t completely addressed the transactional aspect of those systems. That stuff will get more and more defined and standards will emerge.”