IBM Adds Web Services and SOA Tools to the System i
October 15, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In case you missed it, IBM‘s Software Group is very big on applications built using Web services and adhering to a services oriented architecture (SOA). And, as the largest supplier of legacy applications running on mainframe and i5/OS and OS/400 platforms, and a big supplier of Windows and Unix platforms (which also have their own legacy issues when it comes to interfacing with the Web), this all stands to reason. IBM’s SOA strategy is as simple as it is predictable–add another layer of abstraction atop of legacy platforms, exposing their fields and data streams as services, and then allow companies to weave them together in new ways.
The brilliance of this approach from a business perspective–meaning IBM’s business as well as your own–is not to be denied. By moving to an SOA approach, you are basically preserving application platforms as they currently are, which gives those legacy applications some reprieve–at least for now–from the pressure to upgrade them or dump them for something else. Rather than rip and replace, which is expensive, time-consuming, and of dubious value because massive ERP and related application projects fail as much as they succeed in the real world, IT shops of all sizes are being asked to try out this new way of building applications and not tear their shops and applications apart. They are mapping their corporate application genome, and recombining the genes in new and interesting ways, to use an analogy. And they are moving up yet another level of abstraction off the underlying iron. This does, of course, come at a cost. Something has to run that abstraction layer, and that is, of course, more IBM server horsepower. And that leads to more database, middleware, and development tool sales.
While SOA and Web services certainly get a lot of air time in the IT press these days and vendors seem to talk about SOA as much as they talk about server and storage virtualization (and for similar reasons), this kind of application development is about as far away from what most RPG and COBOL shops do as is Java and object-oriented programming. IT shops know they need a way to get their applications to the Web, which is hard enough, but they also know they need to find a way to make their application more malleable, or at least make them look like they are malleable. In this regard, IBM wants to help, and is doing so with a bunch of updated programs for the System i platform announced last week.
For the past two years, IBM has been selling a stack of middleware for the i5/OS platform with the generic name of Web Enablement for i5/OS (product number 5722-WE2), which is a set of freebie tools for bringing legacy applications to the Web through the integrated WebSphere Express application server. The new Web Services and SOA for i5/OS package announced last week takes a similar approach to providing a base set of integrated Web Services and SOA functionality for i5/OS applications. The package is part of i5/OS, which has product number 5722-SS1 of course, and is Option 3 of the operating system, and it fulfils promises IBM’s top techies were making as 2006 came to a close that they would be making it easier for RPG applications to participate in SOAs and be exposed as Web services.
The heart of the new Web services and SOA tools from IBM for the System i platform is called the Integrated Web Services Server for ILE, which is a reference to the Integrated Language Environment. This Web services server, according to IBM, “greatly simplifies the process of externalizing ILE business logic as a service via the Web Administration for i5/OS GUI.” IBM goes so far as to claim that creating Web services from RPG and COBOL applications becomes a job that a system administrator can do with a point-and-click interface rather than a laborious task that has to be accomplished by programmers. This tool is available though a patch to i5/OS (PTF SF99114), and allows an administrator to load the Web services server with a few steps, select and deploy programs written in ILE languages as services (that means RPG, COBOL, C, and C++), and view and manage the created services. Every server needs a client, of course, so the counterpart to the Web Services Server for ILE is a client program that allows the i5/OS and OS/400 variants of the ILE RPG, COBOL, C, and C++ compilers to reach out and consume Web services that are exposed from other applications or platforms, including those written in those four compilers as well as Java, PHP, or .NET applications as well as those that implement the more complex Enterprise Service Bus architecture for SOA applications.
IBM also said last week that it had created a feature pack for Web services for its WebSphere Application Server V6.1 middleware. This code allows Web services messages to be passed to and from am i5/OS box asynchronously as well as in an encrypted fashion and with reliability features to make sure all of the data in the message actually gets to its target–even if it is offline or swamped with transactions at the moment a transaction is running. In addition, IBM said last week that its WebSphere Enterprise Server Bus, an infrastructure for connecting Web services together in a standard fashion that is analogous to a peripheral bus inside a server, has been tweaked to support i5/OS and its integrated DB2/400 databases. WebSphere Process Server V6.1, another SOA tool from IBM that protects the integrity of Web services that are built using IBM’s WebSphere Business Modeler or WebSphere Integration Developer tools, now also has hooks for the i5/OS platform. This tool is built on WebSphere ESB, much as WebSphere ESB is built on WebSphere Application Server. (Yes, this is ridiculously complicated. Not very AS/400 at all, is it?) WebSphere Integration Developer is an Eclipse-based tool that being billed as the “one tool, one set of skills solution for end-to-end integration in your SOA.” By the way, WebSphere ESB runs on Unix and Windows, not i5/OS. So get out that HMC and get ready to partition your System i box, or have an externally attached blade server running Windows.
All of this stuff will be available on December 21, with media distribution on January 18, 2008.
One last thing. I can’t remember how long we have had an integrated WebSphere Express application server for OS/400 and i5/OS platforms, but IBM did this after receiving many complaints about how hard it was to get WebSphere Application Server up and running on iSeries machines and how expensive it was to use, too. IBM wants to make it as easy as possible to get Java applications talking to the Web more quickly and integrating with OS/400 and i5/OS applications and databases as well. Now, IBM has apparently introduced a new integrated Web application server for i5/OS, which will be delivered as an update to PTF SF99114, which is coming out on December 21. IBM doesn’t say what this new server is based on, except to say that it adheres to the OSGi (formerly the Open Services Gateway initiative) standard for allowing the remote management of Java services and a framework for letting Java applications to act as services in an SOA setup. IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Ericsson founded the OSGi alliance in March 1999, which was spun out as a separate foundation. This new integrated Web application server, which is administered using the Web Administration for i5/OS GUI, is intended to be used for application development or for small or low-use applications; IBM is recommending customers move up to WebSphere Express if they are deploying production applications.