Thursday, March 27, 2014

Message in a bottle – pulling the cork and revealing MQ options on NonStop!

IBM’s WebsphereMQ has gained popularity among enterprises as the preferred choice when it comes to connectivity involving disparate systems. For the NonStop community, the concerns have always been over currency, cost and competition and now NonStop users have choice …

The very first time I made the trip to Hursley, Great Britain, it was akin to visiting Westminster Abby or nearby St Paul’s Cathedral.  As you drove into the grounds at Hursley and made your way to the visitor center, it was as if you were walking on hallowed ground, no different than that to be found in any one of these great cathedrals. If you have worked on transactional systems, Hursley was where much of the modern transaction and messaging infrastructure we rely on today first saw the light of day. Hursley was and remains the primary IBM Lab in support of CICS, and as of the 1990s, MQ Series (or, as it is known today, Websphere MQ, or simply, WMQ). 

Of course, when I first went to Hursley I surprised my colleagues by asking where I could buy a tee shirt, and shock of shocks, IBM Hursley had a gift shop and so a coffee mug and a blue tee shirt were quickly produced. For many in the NonStop community, the opportunity to visit Cupertino and walk into the lobby of Building 3 where the Customer Conference Center (CCC) was located, produced similar feelings but as good a job as the CCC did, the customer center in Hursley House traced its origins back to Cromwell and that of itself was a hard act to follow.

When it comes to supporting transactional dialogues between NonStop and IBM Mainframes, putting to one side the IMS product developed at IBM’s Santa Teresa Labs (STL), it’s hard to ignore the presence of CICS and WMQ even today. Two common approaches for connecting NonStop to the Mainframe involved coding to either the CICS or WMQ APIs – the former coming in many varieties, with complexity to match, whereas the latter, a much simpler Open, Close, Put and Get.

Clearly, if given the option, many developers fell back on WMQ simply because it was much easier to use, so much so that in time IBM provided a WMQ / CICS Bridge for the Mainframe to satisfy the requirement of applications running on client systems, external to the Mainframe, that needed to interact with CICS transactions and leverage their logic when it came to accessing tables, files and databases on the Mainframe. The availability of this bridge made things a lot simpler but it didn’t come cheaply nor did it eliminate the need for a WMQ presence on the client systems. To keep things simple, continue support of WMQ’s easy to use APIs, and to change the pricing model, Australian based Infrasoft recently added support of WMQ APIs into the uLinga product suite.

The availability of this feature was covered in the post of March 2, 2014, to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, It’s simply good cricket – NonStop’s Australian connection! In that post I turned to Infrasoft’s Managing Director, Peter Shell, for more information.  “The major benefit of what we are providing is for applications on the NonStop (or other server platforms including Linux and Windows) that currently use MQ to communicate with a mainframe application, can do so now with uLinga and with no need for any application changes.”

To be more precise, Shell then explained, “If the application on the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform uses the MQ Interface (MQI) to communicate with an application on the IBM mainframe ‘and’ the mainframe application is CICS based ‘and’ the CICS-WMQ bridge is used, then what we provide with uLinga can replace the usage of WMQ and the CICS-WMQ bridge on the mainframe for that application's purpose. The CICS-based application would not need to be modified and once again, it is the IPIC protocol that is used between the NonStop/Win32/*ix platform and CICS.” And yes, in using uLinga, it all runs across industry-standard TCP/IP networks.

Furthermore, Shell added, in using uLinga for this purpose NonStop users, “Will save a lot of money by not requiring MQ to be installed on the NonStop nor have to worry about MQ versions.” However, turning to uLinga satisfies just one use case scenario, as Infrasoft’s Shell readily admitted. For those who still need other attributes of WMQ, in particular, what is commonly referred to as WMQ’s “Store and Forward” (S&F) capabilities when running WMQ Asynchronously, more than uLinga may be required and in keeping the costs down, Infrasoft’s partner, comForte, has another product in its portfolio, CS-QMAN.

Developed in Germany by CS Software GmbH, CS-QMAN does provide the support for S&F that applications may require. CS Software GmbH’s motivation for providing this product was similar to Infrasoft’s in that with CS-QMAN there’s no requirement for equivalent WMQ functionality on NonStop and hence, the cost to run WMQ application is greatly reduced. According to CS Software Managing Director, Dr. Werner Alexi, “It seems that Infrasoft (uLinga) and CS Software GmbH (CS-QMAN) had the same idea – however with a completely different background and focus.”

When looking at both products, the markets they serve, and even at where they can coexist, it was comForte CTO, Thomas Burg who put things into perspective. “For NonStop applications requiring connectivity in many cases WMQ has been the product of choice. WMQ is available on almost any platform and provides a rich set of functions, especially in cases where applications do not want to care about the availability of the communication peer,” said Burg. “Furthermore, WMQ configured to run over TCP/IP can offer better security than alternate connectivity options. For comForte, having a strong presence in connectivity and security, it’s only natural that we are pursuing this marketing and providing lower cost solutions to those NonStop users electing to exploit WMQ.”
When it comes to having two products, Burg then explained, “In talking with customers we recognize that there are different use-case scenarios for WMQ. There are situations where MQ is used as an online link to transactional systems where no local storage of messages is required nor desired for fastest turnaround. In other cases applications use store and forward queues so that applications can continue working even if the connected peer is not available – and as we know, if all else fails NonStop still runs. With uLinga and CS-QMAN, both categories are addressed. And the good news is that should the need for both be paramount, we anticipate future configurations where CS-QMAN will be able to directly use uLinga for immediate message delivery combining the advantages of both approaches.”

As the isolation of NonStop silo-ed, as is often the case and, like an island, surrounded by platforms from many vendors, the need to build bridges is paramount for the ongoing success of NonStop. To all those waiting for a bottle to wash ashore with a message telling them what to do, the solution has arrived and is more cost-effective than what may have been anticipated. Hursley may indeed be hallowed ground for many, with lengthy ties back to the origins of the Mainframe, but in today’s world of modern IT, it’s no longer the only location sending out the message of WMQ connectivity!

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