User-group study: Mainframes help host SOA

Mainframes are playing a key role in many service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects, according to a study released this week by the IBM user group Share.

Mainframes such as IBM's System z are integral to SOA almost by default, since they contain a large portion of the world's business information, the study found. Some 30% of respondents who work for companies with 10,000 or more employees said between 51% and 75% of their company's data is managed and stored on a mainframe, according to the study.

Meanwhile, nearly 23% of respondents said their company is undergoing an SOA project, and another third said an SOA is in the planning or consideration stages.

All told, 37% of respondents said they are pursuing a companywide SOA, but in most cases, the projects are confined to niche instances, such as those in specific lines of business or divisions or within applications.

"Many of the applications that need to be SOA-enabled are mainframe applications," said Pamela Taylor, Share's vice president of strategic development and a solutions architect at a subsidiary of a Fortune 50 company that she did not want named. "System z tends to be absolutely critical to deployments."

While mainframes play a dominant role in hosting data, companies' interaction with that data faces constraints. At least 50% of the companies surveyed use hand-coded scripts to push mainframe-based data to other databases or platforms. The study found that such scripting is hard to maintain, particularly if the programmers who wrote it leave the organization.

The study said that SOA can strain systems, such as through its use of XML-based messaging. "Rather than acquire more server hardware to attempt to address growing SOA performance issues, mainframes may represent a more cost-effective option for leveraging existing resources," according to the study.

In turn, the study found that the abstraction layer that an SOA provides can help companies more easily tap their existing mainframe applications and data.

Sales for System z fell last year, but IBM is banking on the launch of its next-generation mainframe in February.

Some 431 Share members responded to the survey, which was conducted by Unisphere Research. About 48% work for companies with 1,000 or more employees, and 26% of respondents' firms have more than $1 billion in revenue.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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