By Nicholas Enticknap
During the period when the mainframe became unfashionable and the emphasis was on downsizing and Unix systems, mainstream transaction processing applications bucked the trend by staying largely where they were, running under CICS on MVS systems. Unix transaction processing monitors such as Tuxedo from BEA Systems Inc, Top End from NCR Corp and Unikix Technologies Inc’s eponymous monitor have all enjoyed reasonable market success, but a rival for CICS – as the preferred transaction processing utility – has yet to appear. For its part, IBM has been concentrating on updating CICS to operate within three layer client-server architecture systems. Transaction processing technology is, however, changing rapidly, as a result of the growth of Internet and intranet-based computing, and this, combined with a resurgence of interest in the mainframe, and the relative failure of open systems transaction processing to establish itself in the market, means that TP monitors are having to adapt. As IBM’s James West puts it, The nature of transaction processing is changing, towards more complex and longer lasting transactions. He cites using the Internet to arrange travel as an example: People might make a travel booking over the Internet. A travel booking involves an airline, a hotel and a car hire. To the end user, that’s a simple transaction; to us, it is complex, he says. The airline seat reservation, hotel room booking and car hire databases are probably held on three different systems. We need to break the transaction into several different sub-transactions of the CICS type, process them, and then re-combine the responses, which can be either synchronous or asynchronous. It’s the same within a department when you’re dealing with a business process spanning several departments. So the race is on to provide such facilities. IBM’s first recognition that the Internet might play a role in transaction processing came in 1994, when the company introduced a CICS common gateway interface, which takes a 3270 data stream as input and puts it out as HTML Hypertext Markup Language code. And last Autumn, IBM took the principle a step further with the introduction of a CICS gateway for Java. This allows any Java- enabled Web browser to run a Java applet which uses the CICS protocol to talk directly to a CICS application, speeding up and simplifies the process, says West. But this is still only an interim step. For the future, IBM expects to be using industry standard protocols such as the IIOP Internet Inter-ORB Protocol, a client/server protocol that enables distributed systems to invoke object classes on another server.
The open systems TP monitor vendors are also moving in this direction. Unikix Technologies introduced Webkix for its eponymous Unikix monitor in October 1995. Webkix provides an Internet interface to CICS applications, unaltered if the user so desires. Early last year, the company also included a Java client. And BEA Systems developed a product called Jolt for use with its Tuxedo monitor. Jolt allows the integration of existing applications into the Internet and intranet world, says Steve Allen, BEA’s Northern Europe managing director. The Network Computer also has an important role to play, promising, says West, to give existing 3270-based users everything they have today, plus a Web browser and Java. So you can migrate your applications to a Web-oriented style. It’s low cost, there are no software level worries because you’re distributing applications at runtime, and you have the same control as with the mainframe. It gives a new lease of life to so-called legacy applications.
All of these CICS developments are taking place against a background where IBM has evolved CICS to exist in either a two- layer or three-layer client-server architecture. According to James West, We are promoting a multi-tier architecture with CICS at the back end, typically on a System/390. For some companies two-tier is enough. Rather more companies have a heterogeneous mix of systems by accident or design, so they have a need to merge their departmental servers with their back-end system. CICS currently runs on all IBM’s own major operating systems – OS/390, VSE, OS/400, AIX and OS/2 – and on the major Unix flavors and Windows NT. Client versions are also available for Apple Macintosh and Windows 95. IBM has still not articulated a strategy for the future development of CICS and Encina, the open systems TP monitor it acquired from Transarc Corp in 1994. The question remains whether it will continue to support both or ditch one to concentrate on the other. Insiders at IBM say that the future of the two systems is actively being considered now, and that a development strategy will be announced early this year.
IBM’s concentration on a mainframe-underpinned model of transaction processing has created opportunities for others, most notably Unikix Technologies. Until recently, Unikix was owned by Bull, but has now been sold to electronic commerce specialist Fisher Technology Group, which looks a more realistic home for a company selling a TP monitor that runs on 15 hardware platforms. Unikix is aimed squarely at CICS customers, aiming to differentiate itself from CICS by virtue of better performance. Unikix now has 300 installations worldwide. A third of these are on Hewlett-Packard Co Unix systems, with the IBM RS/6000 being the second most common platform. Meanwhile, Tuxedo, generally held to be the market leader in the open systems TP market, has lost momentum for a couple of years because it suffered a number of changes of ownership. Starting at AT&T, it moved onto Unix System Laboratories and then to Novell Inc. It has now come to rest at BEA Systems, a new company formed only in 1995. Unlike Unikix, BEA is changing the emphasis of Tuxedo from being a pure transaction processing product to being middleware. NCR is adopting very similar positioning with its rival Top End product, now calling it ‘robust middleware’, covering client/server global administration as well as robust transaction management. Only 20% of Top End sales are now for pure transaction processing usage. The new emphasis is no longer to try and do things more cheaply than the mainframe, but to add functionality, such as client- server features and relational database access. A longer version of this article first appeared in the January 1997 issue of IBM System User. á