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August 12, 2008

Mainframe Trends in Application Development

In last week's blog entry, I wrote about outsourcing in IT and the future of the mainframe platform. While these topics are understandably a concern for mainframe professionals, not all of the news is dire. IBM continues to invest in mainframe technology and work with colleges and universities to provide mainframe-centric curriculum to IT students.

This week I'll cover some other trends related to application development--and personal development.

Technology Needs for z/OS

The current trend in application development is to write applications in Java and run them as Web services. However, that doesn't speak to the untold number of legacy applications that run core business processes for companies of all kinds. IBM doesn't believe that rewriting 30 years of COBOL, JCL, DB2 applications is smart or practical. A better solution is to modernize these legacy applications to run as Web services using SOA.

Thanks to modernization, companies don't have to rewrite their legacy COBOL applications in Java. The modernization trend is also a huge positive for mainframe professionals, who are needed to support of these enterprise projects that bridge the technology gap between z/OS and Linux, UNIX and Windows developers.

New AD Tools

IBM Data Studio--This is a strategic tool to deliver an integrated, modular data management environment to design, develop, operate, optimize and govern database and data-driven applications throughout the lifecycle.

Data Studio features integrated pureXML and pureQuery support. The use of XML is already common in the Linux, Unix, Windows (LUW) world, and, with DB2 9 for z/OS, XML is becoming more prominent on the mainframe. "The DB2 9 pureXML Guide," an IBM Redbook, and "IBM pureXML for SOA: Unlocking the Business Value of Information," a ZDNet whitepaper (registration required), offer technical background.

The development and performance problem of accessing DB2 data with Java applications has greatly been improved with pureQuery. For more, see "Understanding pureQuery" part 1 and part 2 from IBM developerWorks.

Free development tools--Java, XML and Web development are here today on System z with Linux and z/OS. While IBM is playing catch-up in its support of this technology on z/OS, the company has become very aggressive in the marketplace by providing free DB2 and SOA development tools like DB2 Express-C and Data Studio Developer.

Note: Data Studio is available at no charge, but Data Studio Developer includes some features that must be purchased. These features are available for a 31-day trial. Once the trial ends, the product will continue to work without some of these extended features. For learning purposes, the free version offers everything you need.

What You Can Do

Even in the age of outsourcing, professionals with mainframe skills remain valuable in the IT world. Remember too that IBM continues to invest in the mainframe, and that U.S. IT workers have advocates on Capitol Hill. Based on these facts, I believe that future prospects for those who develop and support applications running on System z for both Linux and z/OS are actually very good.

That said, all jobs are temporary. And, especially in this recessionary economy, even if you have great skills, you may find yourself out of work at some point. That makes networking all the more important. Rely on your friends, coworkers, college contacts and social networking sites like Linkedin, Facebook, Plaxo and Twitter.

Another thing you can do as a mainframe professional is simply be willing to learn new things. Keeping up with trends and educating yourself on new technologies enhances your value to employers. Learning Java, XML and Linux will make you attractive to companies engaged in enterprise modernization projects on z/OS. And your years of experience working with TSO, CICS, COBOL and JCL will be invaluable as you work with Java and XML professionals who've never touched a mainframe.