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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

Power SOA on Lightweight Platforms

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There has always been an economic conundrum when it comes to putting SOA on a mainframe. The mainframe is a powerful, resilient, never-goes-down workhorse, but may be way too much for running lightweight SOA-based services. It just doesn't economically make sense to run Web services on a mainframe -- just as you wouldn't use a Hobart convection oven to heat up a pop tart.

In a new report, Vance McCarthy describes how American Electric Power, one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, employed an SOA platform to update its mainframe-based customer information system.
AEP, which provides service to more than five million customers in 11 states, needed to improve customer service, and turned to an SOA approach to extract data from its mainframes to a Web-based service layer. The utility employed DataDirect Shadow, which enabled it to move processes to a more inexpensive "specialty engine" still attached to the mainframe, but based on cheaper commodity processors.

As Jeff Overton, DataDirect Shadow's senior product manager put it: "Many SOA-to-mainframe projects required IT to assign resources from the  GPP, and that was simply too much of a price to pay for many users who are looking to reduce -- not increase -- their mainframe operational expenses. But now, being able to place those operations outside the [general purpose processor] entirely makes the SOA-mainframe conversation much easier to have with customers."

1 Comment


I'm afraid I couldn't disagree with you more. Web Services, specifically SOAP and REST type services, are an ideal way to get at existing software assets on mainframe systems. Mainframes running z/OS, z/VSE etc. are, like many other systems, islands of extremely valuable data and business logic. What better way to get at this data than to have the interoperability that SOAP Web Services provide directly over TCP/IP ? From my perspective using a messaging middleware was the 20th century way to do this because in most cases when querying a mainframe, a reponse is needed immediately. Mainframes are generally the work horses for transaction processing in organziations so it makes perfect sense to connect directly with SOAP or REST using HTTP via a TCP/IP connection to get the best possible performance. Using Messaging Oriented Middleware introduces additional complexity to an application which makes it more difficult to diagnose problems, causes additional overhead and all those other things putting extra boxes between the requestor and the service does.

Best regards,


In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more


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