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Only a few years ago, mainframe computers were considered an endangered species about to be replaced by fast, interconnected and cheaper commodity systems. Fast-forward to this year, and the picture is entirely different. IBM has seen revenue from mainframe sales grow, and while Unisys Corp. officials say their company’s mainframe business isn’t growing as fast as IBM’s, it’s still a healthy part of Unisys’ overall portfolio, too.

Much of the mainframes’ rebirth is due to the companies’ efforts to enhance them with the newest technology. For example, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., last year introduced a Linux engine for its zSeries mainframe and in April unveiled the midrange z890, which sells for less than $200,000. In March, Unisys rolled out its 500 line of ClearPath Plus Libra mainframes, which offer a modular, building-block architecture.

IBM and Unisys are looking to continue this trend.

IBM officials later this year and early next expect to grow a more automated and less expensive software development environment for the company’s zSeries system by bringing in tools from such places as IBM’s WebSphere and Tivoli product lines, as well as from acquired companies such as Rational Software and Candle Corp.

Click here to read about a midsized mainframe from IBM.

For its part, Unisys late last month announced that its new ClearPath Plus Dorado mainframe systems will offer full Linux support and better pay-per-use capabilities. In addition, the Blue Bell, Pa., company unveiled a service aimed at helping mainframe users—not only of Unisys systems, but also IBM mainframes—update their legacy applications.

“It is expensive to develop software for the non-J2EE [Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition] middleware on the mainframe using existing tools such as ISPF [Interactive System Productivity Facility, the original green-screen development environment],” said Jim Rhyne, IBM distinguished engineer and lead architect for eServer tools technology and enterprise transformation.

“For the mainframe to be an attractive software platform, both the operational and the development costs have to be competitive with other platforms, allowing for the superior scalability, manageability and reliability of the mainframe.”

A new version of CICS is in the works and is expected to be released early next year, Rhyne said. Along with that announcement will come a statement of direction from IBM regarding CICS, including a continued push to bring greater automation to the mainframe development and management environments, he said.

zSeries developers, for example, currently use one set of tools, and middleware developers—using Web interfaces—integrate the mainframe applications using another set of tools.

“The difference in tools gets in the way of communication and cooperation between these groups of developers,” Rhyne said. “WebSphere Studio Enterprise Developer provides the tools needed by both groups of developers on an Eclipse-based, workstation tools platform.

“These tools can share both source artifacts, such as COBOL and Java source files, and also metadata, much of which is expressed in XML. This ability to share data eliminates the need to manually copy and extract information during the software development and testing processes, increasing the level of automation.”

Automating the interaction between CICS and J2EE is also a focus, Rhyne said.

Dan Vaught welcomes anything that would make it easier to do development on his IBM mainframes. Vaught, director of architecture at Safelite AutoGlass Inc., said his company currently does application development on mainframes and commodity servers. Having tools that would ease communication between the two sides would help, he said.

“It would save us a lot of time,” said Vaught, in Columbus, Ohio. “We are doing development right now, but it’s just on disparate systems. It is promising. I’ve seen [IBM’s] tools, and I’ve seen the road map.”

Microsoft recently updated its mainframe connectivity server. Click here to read more.

Unisys officials said their mainframe enhancements will give users a better way of linking mainframe and commodity server environments.

Among the open-source software now supported by the Dorado family of mainframes are Linux implementations from Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc., complete Java and J2EE environments, and JBoss Inc.’s JBoss application server. In addition, the systems also support The Apache Jakarta Project’s Tomcat and Microsoft Corp.’s integration tools and .Net development environment.

Unisys’ Application Modernization Service uses the native J2EE environment and automated tools to help customers update legacy software. In addition, the service offers an assessment of customers’ current environments and what steps are needed to update them.

“‘Legacy’ for too long has been a dirty word, and we want to turn it into a positive word,” said Steve Goldner, director of Unisys’ ClearPath line.

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