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WebLogic Server on the Mainframe

WebLogic Server on the Mainframe

Integration is the biggest challenge facing IT organizations. The glass house controls much of the business-critical data in the enterprise, and traditional integration tactics, while complex and often proprietary, are still king. However, more convenient, aggregated, and flexible access to this data is requested and often required by the business side to extend, or at least defend, competitive advantage.

Customers and users expect more access, better services, and more current data, and a company's competitors are just a click away. Fortunately, products such as the BEA WebLogic Platform, industry standards including Web services, and deployment of WebLogic Server on the mainframe provide a bridge over these "troubled waters." Deploying WebLogic Server on the mainframe allows access to legacy data and applications to be opened to Web services as well as standards-based adapters and interfaces.

This is the final article in our series covering WebLogic Server on the mainframe. The first article detailed many of the business advantages of deploying J2EE applications within the mainframe. These benefits include leveraging Java for better programmer productivity; aggregating multiple servers onto a single mainframe partition to lower operational costs and more efficiently utilize existing hardware; leveraging mainframe quality-of-service capabilities for 24/7 application availability; and extending existing applications and data located on the host machines. The second article detailed how to install and configure WebLogic Server for z/Linux and z/OS environments, including the steps required, the resources necessary on the mainframe, and how this differs from installing WebLogic on other platforms. In the third article we covered many of the tips and tricks we learned with WebLogic Server in z/Linux and z/OS environments and provided an overview of several customer production deployments.

This month we'll outline the various integration strategies for accessing mainframe resources, applications, and databases, including:

  • Using WebLogic Server on the mainframe to Web service-enable mainframe data and applications
  • Utilizing WebLogic Workshop to build Web services applications efficiently, including an example from a third-party product
  • Leveraging the various capabilities of WebLogic Integration
  • Accessing MQSeries or other messaging technologies from WebLogic Server

    Enabling Mainframe Applications with Web Services
    One of technology's most popular buzzwords is Web services. A key advantage of Web services is the use of a standards-based interface to expose components, objects, and services to programmatic clients, regardless of their location, underlying hardware, or language in which the program was written. The promise of Web services is particularly attractive for the mainframe, since the majority of these applications are written in legacy programming languages such as COBOL, and offer limited integration alternatives. Opening the door to these applications via Web services provides a powerful, more flexible, more current programming paradigm. However, the challenge is in providing this promising technology on the mainframe.

    By offering a complete implementation of Web services, as well as deployment support to z/Linux and z/OS mainframe environments, WebLogic Server offers a unique platform that spans these technologies. On the Web services side, WebLogic Server offers a complete implementation of Web services standards, including SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, HTTP, and XML, as well as enterprise features for loose coupling, asynchrony, secure authentication, authorization, and message encryption. Utilizing the power of the Java environment for platform independence, the same WebLogic Server that runs on Unix, Linux, and Windows also runs on the mainframe and includes support for Web services. The administrator is free to deploy his or her application on the hardware platform that best suits the business requirements without affecting the development effort.

    However, deploying WebLogic Server in z/Linux or z/OS doesn't magically expose Web services within the underlying business application. WebLogic Server provides a Web services listener in a Java Virtual Machine executing on z/Linux and z/OS operating systems. Business application environments and databases such as CICS, DB2, or IMS, still require access via traditional adapters, client APIs, or interfaces. WebLogic Server offers this proxy-style capability, exposing a Web service interface to SOAP clients and mapping the corresponding WSDL to the mainframe application. When deployed on the mainframe, the Web service proxy, adapter, and application itself are consolidated onto a common platform, simplifying development, deployment, and management.

    Mainframe Web Services with WebLogic Workshop and NEON ShadowDirect
    BEA recently introduced a powerful tool to aid developers building Web services-based applications: WebLogic Workshop. WebLogic Workshop provides a graphical environment for developing, assembling, and deploying applications using Web services and J2EE. One key use of this tool is in the assembly of complex business components, tying everything together with Java code. The components may include EJBs, database objects, or other Web services. In addition, WebLogic Workshop includes an open API for representing custom connectors. One example is the ShadowDirect J2EE Connector Architecture ( J2EE CA) adapter from NEON Systems, Inc.

    ShadowDirect enables WebLogic Server to connect, using J2EE CA or JDBC, to a variety of mainframe resources, including:

    • CICS
    • IMS/TM
    • IMS/DB
    • DB2
    • VSAM
    • ADABAS
    • Natural
    • Flat files
    In addition, the ShadowDirect adapters can leverage mainframe services such as Resource and Recovery Subsystem (RRS) and Workload Manager (WLM) if required, although these aren't prerequisites.

    Use of the J2EE CA adapter incorporates the J2EE component paradigm for reuse, application design, and simplified maintenance. The ShadowDirect adapters handle the complexities of communication to the data source while the underlying J2EE architecture dispatches the request to an available pooled connection. WebLogic Server provides connection pooling, high availability, fail-over, clustering, session persistence, and support for Web services.

    Here's where things get interesting. WebLogic Workshop is a powerful tool for building Web services applications, including those that make use of the ShadowDirect adapters. With access to a few lines of Java code and the ShadowDirect controls for WebLogic Workshop, a J2EE programmer can easily wire together complex components that represent mainframe data and applications. In addition, these programmers need no mainframe skills or knowledge of the underlying complexities. WebLogic Workshop generates the code needed to access the ShadowDirect adapters from any Web services client that supports SOAP and WSDL, including Microsoft .NET. Given the diminishing number of programmers trained for mainframe programming, the ability to leverage Java developers can provide an attractive return on development investment.

    NEON Systems provides an online example (http://houscbeawl.neonsys.com/webservices.html and http://houscbeawl.neonsys.com) to illustrate how ShadowDirect can be used to access the mainframe. You'll find an overview of the example application, the corresponding configuration for building the sample, and a test harness for validating the example application. The service descriptions represent the services available on this test application. All mainframe access is implemented using ShadowDirect. A key advantage is that all the data sources are defined and accessed using well-defined XML documents.

    Figure 1 presents the WebLogic Workshop design environment and the controls for accessing the mainframe via ShadowDirect. Using the Design view, the developer can quickly and easily arrange components that represent mainframe services.

    WebLogic Integration and the Mainframe
    A key component of the WebLogic Platform offering is the WebLogic Integration product. WebLogic Integration combines an adapter suite based on the J2EE CA, a robust business process management service including data translation and transformation services, and a B2B engine that facilitates communication between organizations. Hosting this product on the mainframe offers a number of benefits:

  • Unified platform of application server and integration engine.
  • Consistent administration and management.
  • Adapters are closer to the data and applications they access, decreasing the connections and corresponding network latency.
  • All applications are hosted within a single mainframe operating environment.
  • The Java development and programming model is insulated from the underlying mainframe environment.
  • Reliability, scalability, and availability are achieved through the combined benefits of the mainframe operational support and WebLogic Server.

    Leveraging industry standards such as J2EE CA and Web services, WebLogic Integration is able to deliver solutions more quickly by reusing infrastructure. Standards lower the risks associated with technology decisions, lower maintenance costs through a platform that will evolve as technologies change, lower time-to-market through reusable services, and lower training and administration costs.

    WebLogic Integration provides a complete business process management engine, including support for business process modeling, process execution, and process monitoring. In addition, it includes a full suite of routines for data translation and data transformation, as well as a plug-in framework where new actions, functions, variable types, and events can be registered. WebLogic Integration supports event processing, providing support for both automated and manual processing. For example, the ability to allow manual intervention in a business process allows our solution to model real business problems. It is designed to be extensible, adapting to unique business problems and scenarios.

    A suite of services that enable businesses to connect and collaborate with business partners, including execution of transactions, automation of business processes between enterprises, and management of ongoing B2B relationships, is also included. It supports a broad range of connectivity options, from simple browser clients and basic file sharing to EDI and RosettaNet exchanges. Business message and transaction support, including EDI, XML, RosettaNet 1.1 and 2.0, cXML, and XOCP, allows trading partners to engage in long-running, high-volume, complex business transactions. Enhanced security features include support for digital signatures, nonrepudiation, and trading partner agreements.

    Integrating WebLogic Server with Other Integration Tools
    The mainframe is a mature environment, and a wide variety of technologies exists for access to host-based applications and data. Many products provide proprietary client APIs. When considering WebLogic Server on the mainframe, access to these APIs is possible as long as a Java-based client API exists. The primary advantage is that applications developed using Java and J2EE can now leverage access to these messaging systems and brokers with few or no changes required. One example is access for foreign JMS providers, such as MQSeries, using the JMS APIs. (The use of the term "foreign" simply implies the JMS provider is external to WebLogic Server.)

    Although WebLogic Server includes a complete JMS 1.0.2 service implementation, it can also be used with foreign JMS providers such as IBM's MQSeries, SonicMQ from Sonic Software, SmartSockets from Talarian, FioranoMQ from Fiorano, and Ibus Message Server from Softwired. WebLogic Server can interface with these messaging systems and can consume messages from these systems via the message-driven EJB, or MDB. BEA provides a white paper (http://dev2dev.bea.com/resourcelibrary/ whitepapers.jsp?highlight=whitepapers) detailing how to interface these systems via the MDB, using the WebLogic messaging bridge, and in a standalone client program. In addition, code examples and a working MQSeries sample application can be found at http://dev2dev.bea.com.

    Let's consider an example interfacing with MQSeries. The typical usage pattern is to define a WLS MQSeries XAConnectionFactory object that wraps an MQSeries XAConnectionFactory object. This WebLogic Server-specific connection factory might then be stored in a WLS JNDI context for use at application runtime. An application would retrieve the connection factory and use it to create the appropriate connection, session, producer, and consumer objects. Each of these objects derived from the connection factory will be a WLS MQSeries object that delegates method invocations to the corresponding MQSeries implementation object.

    Similar approaches can be taken with other integration brokers and systems provided a Java client API exists. The key advantage of WebLogic Server is that it can be deployed on the mainframe along with the specific integration services, providing a single hardware environment hosting the end-to-end solution. The resulting solution is easier to manage, and performance and reliability problems related to network latency are avoided.

    Summary
    We've tried to show how easy it is to leverage WebLogic Server on the mainframe. There are a number of areas where costs can be reduced, hardware resources can be better utilized through server consolidation, programmer productivity can be increased, and investment in existing systems can be leveraged. The installation and configuration assistance will aid anyone deploying WebLogic Server on the mainframe, and the tips and tricks will aid in performance tuning and analysis. Tighter integration of data and applications results in a simpler, easier-to-manage environment. J2EE running on the mainframe is a powerful solution and can solve a broad range of business problems facing today's IT manager.

  • More Stories By Tad Stephens

    Tad Stephens is a system engineer based in Atlanta, Georgia for BEA Systems. Tad came to BEA from WebLogic and has over 10 years of distributed computing experience covering a broad range of technologies, including J2EE, Tuxedo, CORBA, DCE, and the Encina transaction system.

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