New tool aims to kill retro

Clerity Solutions Inc. is launching a new tool for app developers looking to emulate mainframe-based IBM 3270 “green screens” on modern, distributed platforms. But according to one industry analyst, this approach will only hinder true migration plans in the future and should be avoided.


For those not familiar with 3270 “green screens,” think about the type of computing systems you’d see in 1970s films, which featured green text across a black background.


The Clerity Map Editor tool will allow developers to move away from this retro interface and run mainframe applications on targeted platforms such as UNIX, Linux, or even zLinux. The Chicago-based mainframe migration firm said the tool, which provides a graphical user interface (GUI) environment for developers looking to migrate to other systems, is specifically aimed at IT professionals without mainframe skills.


“Key skills are no longer available on the mainframe to maintain these applications,” said Barry Tait, manager of technical pre-sales engineering at Clerity. “Developers are coming out of university learning about virtualization, service-oriented architecture, Java, visual programming techniques, and .NET programming.


Tait added that mainframe developers might also find the Java-based visual development tool useful in speeding up the time it takes to maintain and modify these apps.


Using the tool, standalone CICS Basic Mapping Support (BMS) maps and BMS files associated with COBOL copybooks can be displayed and modified on any Java-enabled Windows, UNIX, or Linux-based system. The company added that no formal BMS macro coding knowledge is required to use the tool.


But no matter how easy to tool is to use, the question still remains how useful it will be to enterprise IT shops looking to migrate from the mainframe.


According to Andi Mann, vice-president of research at Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc., the answer is: Not very useful at all. The research analyst said the tool would only fill a very niche, low-value area of IT.


The problem, he said, is that most organizations do not want to maintain these cumbersome “green screens” anymore, so emulate the native 3270 interface is actually unhelpful. In any event, Mann added, this functionality is already available from other vendors such as Attachmate Corp.


“Worst part, though, is that retraining from a 3270 to a native windowed GUI is not something to be avoided. On the contrary, it is a best practice,” he said. “Mainframe skill sets are a dying breed, despite major CPR efforts from IBM and CA, and this is one of the major concerns in the industry. Indeed, that is what is driving many mainframe migrations.”


Maintaining all the old practices, code, and screens from a dying mainframe will only maintain this problem in the future and could actually amplify it, he added.


“Better to bite the bullet, recode the applications, and retrain the staff, than put off the inevitable until it reaches a crisis,” he said. 
Mann added that the tool might actually be of use as a short term solution to keep the lights running while a true migration is taking place.
Pricing for Clerity Map Editor is US$15,000 for a bundle of 10 developer seats. For organizations with smaller development teams, the company said it would arrange for appropriate pricing.

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