Startup OpenLegacy Open Sources App Modernization Tool
February 16, 2015 Alex Woodie
A company called OpenLegacy is beginning to gain momentum with a suite of free and open source tools for modernizing IBM i and z/OS applications. Besides giving away most of its technology (it charges for support in its professional edition), the company is also unique with its API-driven approach to giving older apps new life with Web, mobile, and cloud interfaces.
OpenLegacy was founded in Israel about a year ago with the goal of helping organizations expose their IBM i and z/OS assets in new and useful ways. The company’s CEO and co-founder, Romi Stein, is a former IBMer and its COO, Hans Otharsson, worked previously at Software AG, and they were in New York City recently to drum up interest in the venture-based company and its unique business model.
“We’re not a typical startup in the sense that we have been developing an open source product for some time,” Stein tells IT Jungle in a phone interview. “We gained multiple customers across multiple industries ranging from governmental, like the Israeli Airport Authority, to healthcare, HMOs, manufacturing, and retail. We have basically been able to help those companies modernize and integrate very quickly, and expose their legacy systems to Web, mobile, and cloud.”
The company uses the term “modernization” differently than others in the space. For starters, there are few, if any, changes actually made to the IBM i or the z/OS applications. The legacy code, whether it is written in RPG, COBOL, PL1, or Natural, stays in place and continues to power the back office application as it has for decades. It is more like integration.
Instead, OpenLegacy adds an additional layer on top of the existing applications. It does this by analyzing the 5250/3270 screens, the RPG and COBOL business logic, and the database calls. After creating a model of the existing system, it then uses a wizard to automatically generate new interfaces, which could include a graphical user interface (GUI) for Web or mobile devices, programmatic interfaces (a REST or XML Web service), and database interfaces.
“We have the ability to auto-analyze and understand the different connections between the screens,” Stein says. “We have a learning engine, based on an open source learning engine, that today analyzes out of the box around 70 to 80 percent of customer’s applications. We’re able, in a very fast manner, to generate a full-blown Web and mobile application for that AS/400 backend process.”
It’s all about giving customers maximum interoperability, particularly when customers need to integrate with existing stuff the customer may already have. “A shop might have an in-house mobile solution or an enterprise service bus, and that’s perfectly fine because all we’re generating is an API that can be consumed by the technology,” Otharsson says. “We’re truly agnostic when it comes to what you want to do with the API. Since it’s open source, you’re able to tweak it or tune it or do what you need with that generated code.”
Otharsson is the business guy now, but he has a technology background, and that background allows him to speak simply about complicated things. That’s refreshing, especially in an IT industry that is often too heavy in hype and too light in actual substance.
“We’re not really sexy,” he says. “It’s not really exciting. It’s just plumbing. We’re that last mile. We make sure you can get to that legacy system without a lot of heavy or costly middleware or without a lot of development time, or without having to look at it from a SOA architecture perspective.”
While OpenLegacy supports the SOA approach, if that’s what customers are doing, the company is clearly not the biggest SOA fan. “SOA is a great concept but it became bogged down in bureaucracy and deployment,” Otharsson says. “It just takes too long and it’s IT driven where IT is deciding what it needs to be and how long it’s going to take. Our approach is we have a business need and how can we solve that quickly, easily and responsively.”
OpenLegacy hopes that message of simplicity resonates with IBM i shops. It has a good shot when you consider that the platform has been shielding developers and administrators from complexity since it launched as the AS/400 way back in 1988 (and has a heritage of pragmatism that extends back well over a decade before that).
“What we’ve seen in AS/400 space in the United States is they’ve sort of been left alone,” Otharsson says. “They don’t really have tools or facilities to be able to extend or expand what they’re currently doing with their backend system, and the only alternative they’re being provided is rewrite it, get off the AS/400 or the IBM i or the mainframe—major capital-investment type projects. We’re not in that business. We’re in the business of solving that business problem and exposing that backend system to new mobile devices, new markets.”
The company so far has attracted about 30 customers, not all of whom are paying for the professional version, which adds an authentication system, API testing validation, and workload management capabilities, and includes professional support from the company. Subscriptions start at about $2,000 per month per developer seat. The server runtime sits on the Apache Tomcat server.
OpenLegacy’s customer list includes some IBM i shops, including Deltek Motors, one of the largest resellers of BMW, Ford, and Mazda in Israel. The company needed a way to integrate its IBM i backend with a new Microsoft Dynamics CRM system. “We stepped in and were able to get their system of 300 screens running in production,” Stein says.
The company, which has an office in Princeton, New Jersey, is currently looking for business partners in the Americas who can provide technical services to customers. Interested parties can contact the company at its website: www.openlegacy.com.