The company is drawing a roadmap for adding Java support to its Customer Information Control System (CICS), a software package which dates back to the 1970s and is used for processing mission-critical transactions.
While on the surface, the pronouncement seems little more than IBM slapping Java on yet another of its so-called "legacy" systems, the move has the potential to keep the company's ultra-lucrative mainframe software--and S/390 hardware--businesses humming along nicely into the next century, analysts said.
CICS is used by 16,000 companies and is installed in 99 of the Fortune 100 businesses, IBM claims. As unbelievable as it sounds, IBM estimates that half of the world's population has touched a CICS transaction at some point.
The software runs on mainframe and large Unix systems and keeps literally thousands of concurrent transactions under control. Some of the biggest companies in the world, from airlines, to credit card companies and brokerage houses, use CICS.
Now, IBM is capitalizing on the growing need for powerful and flexible servers to host e-commerce systems to drive the demand for CICS, said Rob Lamb, CICS business executive at IBM's Hursley Park laboratories in England.
"We're seeing increasing usage of CICS among existing customers. The price [of mainframe technology] has come down, so vs. Unix and other technologies mainframe systems are more price competitive," Lamb said.
While Web storefronts are likely to be built on lower-priced systems, such as Windows NT-based software from Microsoft and Netscape Communications much of the back-end order fulfillment, inventory, and billing systems will remain on IBM mainframes, according to Giga Information Group.
And, with application server software, which can help manage e-commerce transactions, becoming more important, a more Web-savvy version of the software could make IBM the company to beat in the hot application software market.
IBM has already made available interfaces to add an HTML and Java veneer to existing CICS systems. The company also already offers a series of gateways for accessing CICS data from Java applications.
Later this year, IBM plans to give customers tools for "wrapping" CICS transactions in a Java interface, so developers can incorporate legacy CICS systems in new Web applications.
Later this year, Lamb said IBM will introduce the ability to create CICS applications completely in Java. That could boost the software's popularity, since currently CICS systems are built in older procedural languages like Cobol. "There's no wrapper involved. We're creating a set of pure Java classes that let a Java programmer use CICS services," Lamb said.
To make pure Java CICS applications a reality, IBM is building a mainframe Java compiler. The compiler is now in beta testing and is slated to ship early next year.
Finally, IBM will rework CICS so that developers can use Enterprise Java Beans, Sun Microsystems' Java component scheme, to build CICS applications. The EJB support won?t appear until later next year, Lamb said.
CICS works with IBM's DB2 database. In April, IBM reported that sales of DB2 on mainframe systems had grown 11 percent in the past year.
Of course, CICS, and the requisite mainframe hardware on which it runs remain out of the reach of all but the most deep-pocketed of companies. And IBM is mostly preaching to the converted with CICS updates.
Lamb claims, however, that IBM will begin to attract new customers in the coming year. "Companies are finding that this technology is hard to beat for reliability and ease of management," he said.