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Survey: SOA and the 'second life' of mainframes

Thanks to Web services and SOA, we're all mainframe users these days.

Many have been arguing that the mainframe has been fading away -- you know, the whole dinosaur thing.

In fact, just the opposite may be true -- there are more peopleSurvey Finds Mainframe sites embrace SOA using mainframes today than at any time in the history of big iron. And the mainframe user base keeps growing larger every day, exponentially, thanks to big iron applications being extended via Web services and SOA. We all likely now tap into mainframes everyday for something or other over the Web -- without realizing it's big iron at the other end. How many of us were making calls to mainframes ten years ago?

As part of my ongoing work with Unisphere Research, I just wrapped up a survey of SOA deployments and plans at mainframe sites, conducted in cooperation with SHARE, the IBM mainframe user group. (Actually, large systems user group would be a better description.)

In our survey of 430 SHARE members (link to PDF download of executive summary), we found that many mainframe systems are at the center of efforts to achieve enterprise data integration, as well as to extend applications into service-oriented architectures. Mainframes are evolving into a leading role both as a source of mission-critical data, as well as key services.

IBM should be happy to hear this, of course. Big Blue has been promoting its System z mainframe as a core engine of SOA, and has put a number of SOA and Web services-enabling mainframe tools out on the market. SOA makes it possible to re-purpose mainframe applications and data -- formerly locked away -- through a service layer accessible by any and all systems across the network.

The SHARE survey found companies are still in the early stages of expanding the capacity of their current mainframe systems to support SOA. Close to one out of four respondents' companies have SOA efforts now in progress, and another one-third are planning or considering SOA. At least half of those engaged in or planning SOA say they are or will employ mainframes in a central role.

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, of course. Fewer than one out of ten could say that an appreciable amount of their SOA-based services are shared across two or more business units.