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Follow the Path to iSeries Modernization
Author: Kevin Larsen - IBM


I'm a simple person by nature. I don't use big words, or live in a big house. I've got no need for an expensive sports car or fancy clothes. And instead of a meal at a fancy steak house with expensive wine, I'd rather cook up a bag of frozen chicken wings.

Okay, you get the point. If you crave simplicity like I do, you'll love the iSeries Developer Roadmap. This strategy helps you create new value from your existing IBM eServer iSeries applications. In other words, the iSeries Developer Roadmap can help make your iSeries server better.

The Roadmap is a step-by-step plan for modernizing, or improving the value of your existing RPG and COBOL applications by integrating them with new Web-based technologies. Sounds complex right? Well, take a look at Figure 1.

In one picture, you see the six Roadmap steps laid out from left to right. Across each step, you see the three core components of an application - the user interface, business logic, and development tools. You also see how these components are modernized in each step. Finally, since the Roadmap is based on improving your applications using the Web, the Roadmap shows the IBM WebSphere products that help you achieve the goals of each step.

Granted, the transition to Web technologies is not always simple, but with the Roadmap, you get a simple, high-level, easy to understand framework that describes the elements of your applications you can improve, the products and technologies to use, and when to integrate them into your environment. The Roadmap goes further: it also outlines the why. It explains the business value that can be achieved when you implement a specific step. The Roadmap also explains the how by outlining a learning path that helps your developers acquire the skills they need at each step.

You'll note that I didn't say that the Roadmap forces you away from using RPG or COBOL to build your applications - quite the contrary. It actually focuses on making these tools more valuable by showing you how you can incorporate the advantages of the Web, such as ubiquitous access, standards based, and connectivity to multiple devices and other businesses.

You can continue to maintain your existing applications in traditional languages, and enhance them with new ones. Because the Roadmap steps are self-contained, each step offers discrete value. So you decide which ones to implement depending on your business needs. You can enter and exit the Roadmap where you see fit. You don't have to follow the Roadmap from beginning to end, and in fact, most iSeries clients won't have a reason to.

Each step of the Roadmap focuses on improvement. The area of focus is prefixed with the word Better, so you have steps such as Better Tools, Better User Interface, Better Architecture, Better Portability, and Better Scalability. The Roadmap starts where most iSeries shops are today: maintaining RPG or COBOL applications with iSeries native development tools (SEU, PDM, etc), and served to your users through a 5250 device or emulator.

The first modernization step in the Roadmap  (Better Tools) actually has nothing to do with your applications. Instead, it focuses on the tools you use to develop them. Here the focus is on transitioning your developers from green-screen tools to modern, graphical tools that provide an easier interface and enhanced capabilities. In the case of IBM WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries (WDSc), the focus also is on a common look and feel environment for developing your RPG and COBOL applications today as well as new applications based on Java and the Web in future Roadmap steps. This first step sets you up for success in future steps. WDSc is included in IBM WebSphere Development Studio (5722-WDS), a product most iSeries clients are already using.

The next step in the Roadmap is developing a Better User Interface. You can improve the access experience to your iSeries resources by giving your users the graphical paradigm of the Web. You can also open your iSeries to new user communities that don't have iSeries skills. For example, you can give customers the ability to place orders or manage their accounts through the Web. These operations may be ones that currently require access to a green screen through a call center. This Roadmap step brings the point-and-click standard of the Web to your iSeries while still maintaining your existing 5250 user interface, typically without modifying your application source code.

Offerings from IBM that support the user interface effort include the IBM WebSphere Host Access Transformation Services (HATS) product, the IBM WebFacing Tool (included in WDSc), and iSeries Access for Web (included in the iSeries Access Family). Regardless of which product you use, the good news for iSeries clients in this step is that entitlement for the required enabling infrastructure, IBM WebSphere Application Server - Express, is currently included in i5/OS V5R3, the next generation of OS/400, at no additional charge. Finally, you can consolidate these assets into a single point of access portal for your employees or trading partners, through IBM WebSphere Portal - Express.

The first two steps of the Roadmap let you extend and enhance your existing application environment without disrupting the underlying source. However, that doesn't mean altering the source won't bring you business benefits. With a Better Architecture, you encapsulate the different areas of logic within your software. You encapsulate the user interface logic, business logic, and data access logic into self contained modules. For example, RPG IV allows you to structure your code through modules, and doing so lets you leverage a basic Software Engineering axiom: code that changes together should be packaged together, and changed independently of other areas of logic.
A Better Architecture exhibits better structured code, not the "spaghetti" code that you may be maintaining today. A modular architecture helps you in the long run by making it easier and less costly to add new features to your applications. But beyond that, a modular architecture lets you isolate the business logic within your applications, and offer it as callable services through Web technologies.

Imagine your trading partners using your new inventory application: their Microsoft Windows programs call your RPG programs over the Web, so they can help you maintain proper product inventory. This type of application is achievable with Web Services, which is a set of open standards technologies that allow programs to talk to each other, regardless of the language they are written in, or the platform they run on. Who would have thought you could do this with iSeries applications you've been maintaining for 20 years or more? Of course, while a Better Architecture sounds simple on paper, it obviously assumes you have the resources, money, time, and even the source code to make it happen.

The final stages of the Roadmap are intended for those iSeries clients and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that require a more portable and scalable application environment. It could involve building a new interface around existing RPG logic in Java, such as with WebSphere Business Integration products; writing new business logic or rewriting existing logic in Java; or taking advantage of more advanced Java components such as Enterprise JavaBeans. But as I said, you can enter and exit the Roadmap according to your business needs. It is not necessary to implement these steps if you don't require the value they provide.

You can learn a lot more about the iSeries Developer Roadmap at www.ibm.com/eserver/iseries/roadmap. You will find a quick Roadmap demo, a presentation with accompanying audio that outlines the Roadmap, a whitepaper that provides an independent, third-party analysis of the Roadmap, and the Roadmap learning path. The Roadmap is enhanced periodically to incorporate new technologies and products, so stop back often.

If you've been looking for a simple-to-understand strategy for integrating the Web with your iSeries, look no further than the iSeries Developer Roadmap. It's time to get more out of your iSeries!

Kevin Larsen is an Advisory Software Engineer at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota. For the past 5 years, he has educated IBM eServer iSeries customers on WebSphere products and technologies, architecture design and implementation. Kevin can be reached at kevlars@us.ibm.com.