IBM's acquisition of Ascential Software is making it easier for companies to get information out of legacy mainframe code and onto other platforms through its WebSphere Data Integration Suite.
But is this a big gamble for Big Blue's highly profitable mainframe business? The tool could help keep the mainframe viable, or it could remove the last barrier keeping many on the platform.
One of the first major data integration projects was undertaken by IBM and the New York-based Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. (DTCC), a relatively unheard-of organization that processes virtually every Wall Street transaction.
The DTCC has grown over time through acquisitions. The billing systems from these acquisitions were often written in COBOL or Assembler and were up to 15 years old.
The DTCC is now merging the applications into a single system. According to Gary Apruzzese, vice president of DTCC Shared Services, the organization has over 70 legacy billing applications to consolidate.
The first part of the project was to bring a single interface to the front end and take the info from DTCC's mainframe to a Wintel environment.
"It's saving money," Apruzzese said. "And now we have a [graphical user interface] to deal with our billing."
The DTCC bills customers per transaction, so ease of use and a GUI allows them to invoice the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ more efficiently.
"Most financial services companies have made a mess of their data, with hundreds of legacy applications running on the back end. In some cases they have literally thousands of people doing hand-coding to use that data," said IBM's Rob Utzschneider, executive director, North American field engineering.
Front to back
Now that the organization has replaced COBOL on the mainframe with Wintel on the front end, Apruzzese is tackling back-end operations, to get a single view of the data on Unix servers.
But the DTCC found the conversion of legacy interfaces difficult, and the analysis of determining the right business tools was challenging, which is why it worked with IBM on the project.
"When DTCC came to us, they thought they needed an ETL [extract transform load] tool, one of the functionalities of our data integration suite. But it's like building a house and thinking you need to buy a drill. In reality, in order to do this you have to understand the complexity of the project. They'd never done this before and in order to be successful they really needed someone to partner with them, to train their team members and give them a repeatable process," Utzschneider said.
Utzschneider said the DTCC is now migrating its core mainframe applications onto more cost-effective Unix servers. But the organization will still use the mainframe for data analysis.
But if the roadblock of legacy applications are removed, what's to keep shops on Big Iron?
"As long as I've been an analyst, people have predicted the demise of the mainframe. But whenever people look at porting applications off of it, they often conclude that it's not worth the effort or the cost," said Tony Iams, analyst with Port Chester, N.Y.-based Ideas International Inc.
But if this system makes porting applications more painless, companies are going to have more options.
"Our software gives people the flexibility to go either way. It adds relevance to the mainframe because you can access this code more efficiently, without the hand-coding. If for other reasons, they want to get off the mainframe, they can do that as well," Utzschneider said.
According to Iams, the alternatives are strengthening from IBM's pSeries, Sun Microsystems' Unix, Hewlett-Packard's Unix and Unisys' ES-7000 -- all of which are more or less able to match the strength of the mainframe platform. So what you're left with is the problem of porting applications.
"It's not surprising that they're porting these programs to more modern platforms. There is a growing demand for this, and it's the bottleneck for leaving the mainframe. If IBM can ensure you move from the mainframe to a pSeries or a blade server, as long as it's still IBM hardware and services, it's OK with them," Iams said.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor
This article originally appeared on Search390.com