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Miller Time for SOA

As a careful brewmeister might do it, IT professionals at Miller Brewing Co. are slowly moving to an SOA plan that will wrap mainframe apps into Web services.

Can you mix barley and hops with service-oriented architecture (SOA)?

The mainframe has a lot of the business rules buried in the logic, in order to extract those and re-write them would be a very costly thing to do.
Tim Heeley
Senior Systems AnalystMiller Brewing Co.

Well, not exactly, but Miller Brewing Co. has plans to begin an SOA implementation in 2008 that will move mainframe COBOL applications, including those that help manage beer distribution, into the Web services world.

Like a brewmeister contemplating a new beer, Tim Heeley, senior systems analyst at Miller Brewing, is proceeding with care.

"We're not totally into an SOA environment," he said. "We've just scratched the surface."

Heeley is following a step-by-step approach to carefully move mainframe COBOL applications, which have been serving the brewery for 20 years or more. Rushing into SOA would not be a recipe for success.

As a customer for mainframe software from Micro Focus Ltd. for many years, Heeley is planning to use that company's SOA Express product, which is part of its Mainframe Express Enterprise Edition. After talking with Micro Focus engineers, Heeley has been assured that the conversion from COBOL mainframe to SOA can be done without endangering the applications Miller Brewing's business relies on.

Explaining how SOA Express works, Craig Marble, systems engineer at Micro Focus said, "There's no changes to the mainframe application so there is very little risk involved."

The first step with SOA Express, Marble said, is an automated analysis of the mainframe COBOL code to determine where the business processes are running.

This is important to Heeley, who explained, "The mainframe has a lot of the business rules buried in the logic, in order to extract those and re-write them would be a very costly thing to do."

The Micro Focus technology finds that buried business logic and brings it to the surface, Marble said. "What we do in the tool is identify what transactions are required to create a business process or satisfy a business need and identify the input and output of that business process and the flow of those transactions."

Once the business process is identified, a developer or a business analyst can use the Micro Focus tool to define the workflow, which then can automatically be generated into code, Marble said.

"We can generate Java, .NET, or XML or Web services. Clearly for SOA, Web services is the preferred access method," the Micro Focus engineer said.

However, in the initial stage of moving COBOL applications off the mainframe, Heeley is focused on .NET. The first step in the transition to SOA is moving COBOL applications into Miller Brewing's .NET environment so program updates can be tested. Moving COBOL applications to .NET for testing not only saves mainframe resources, it provides a means of gauging what it will take to move those applications off their current servers and put them in Web services wrappers.

Explaining the goal of the SOA implementation he is planning for 2008, Heeley said, "What we're planning to do is leverage some of the existing code that's already on the mainframe and put wrappers around it to run it in an Internet environment."

Marble explained that the Micro Focus technology does this by generating two artifacts that orchestrate the interaction between the mainframe applications and the Web services application.

For more information
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"One is the service that runs on the application server," he explained. "For every component that runs on the application server, we also generate a COBOL program. That COBOL program doesn't duplicate any logic or change anything in the legacy application. What it does is act like a traffic cop. So at runtime, the user makes the request on the Web page for certain functionality. They'll put in some data and press the submit button. The submit button orders our Web service to collect that data from the screen through or whatever middleware we're working with and ship that up to the mainframe where our generated COBOL picks up that data and executes the transactions involving that data."

The legacy transaction runs in the background and the generated COBOL program moves it from one transaction to another until it is ready to be sent back through the middleware to the end user, according to Marble.

For Heeley, all this complex automated technology comes down to whether it will meet a relatively straightforward goal. "We're trying to find an approach to get our older systems up into the newer environment."

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