B.O.S. Software Service und Vertrieb GmbH: Driving Innovation with Mainframe Integration
Elisabeth Schwarz, CEO
Digitalization has percolated deep into every aspect of businesses, and organizations today are in dire need to integrate their legacy systems—especially mainframes— with advanced tools to stay ahead of the disruption. However, recent surveys reveal that a staggering 71 percent of Fortune 500 Companies still rely on mainframes. Evidently, a pressing concern for such organizations is establishing a synergy between their outmoded mainframe systems and new-age technologies such as Cloud and Big Data. What further aggravates the situation is the lack of technical prowess, talent shortage in the mainframe arena, and the extensive process of integrating the legacy systems with the latest tools. To unravel this complexity, B.O.S. Software Service und Vertrieb GmbH, a German data integration solutions provider, has introduced a new approach that simplifies the entire integration process while optimizing IBM z mainframes within a heterogeneous IT environment.
"Through our years of experience in implementing customized solutions for data replication and synchronization in heterogeneous environments, we have acquired extensive know-how in databases and file systems in IBM z mainframe environments, distributed systems, Apache Hadoop, and Cloud environments," says Elisabeth Schwarz, the CEO of BOS.
BOS’ solutions build bridges between the past and the future— between mainframe, Linux, Unix, Windows, and Cloud platforms. It transforms the complex and decades-old mainframe data into easily accessible relational data. "Many IT experts are familiar with a relational view of data. This makes it pretty easy for young talents and other IT experts without mainframe know-how to work with mainframe data and integrate them into new solutions. We create freedom for innovation and modernization for our customers," says Elisabeth.
The Genesis—A New Focus on Integration
The firm's genesis dates back to the 80s, when a group of likeminded service, sales, and management experts from a German-based software company got together with a revolutionary idea. They wanted to establish a concept for developing and marketing software that focuses on the customers and subsequently, on the end-users. Besides excellent solutions, the idea was to offer an outstanding, timely, competent, and results-oriented service. BOS opened its doors in 1990 and targeted users working with online mainframe applications on screens. Back then, there were 3270 user interfaces in mainframe environments. The first 3270 models were monochrome with a resolution of 24×80 characters. The application displayed on the screen was limited to a certain amount of characters with no graphical user interfaces. Online data processing was very cryptic, and data collection was mainly key values. That is where BOS went in and developed solutions to simplify the handling of these applications. The meaning of the key values could be displayed as online help. Existing values could be retrieved from VSAM or Db2 tables on the mainframe. This was the first step towards data integration without program modifications. With this solution, BOS gained global market leadership.
At the turn of the millennium, the limited 3270 display technology was gradually replaced by graphical user interfaces. In the course of this technology shift, new platforms in the distributed environment became more important.
Our solutions include the technology to transform the complex and decades old mainframe data into easily accessible relational data. We use it to create freedom for innovation and modernization for our customers
Consequently, BOS’ field of activity shifted to "integration of data and applications in heterogeneous environments." The launch of tcACCESS and later tcVISION established the new focus on integration.
"For decades, the mainframe world has had its own language – we are part of the people who speak that language," says Elisabeth. "We and our solutions act as interpreters for experts without mainframe know-how so that they can drive their modernization and innovation initiatives."
"Through our years of experience in implementing customized solutions for data replication and synchronization in heterogeneous environments, we have acquired extensive know-how in databases and file systems in IBM z mainframe environments, distributed systems, Apache Hadoop, and Cloud environments"
The Two Robust Offerings
tcACCESS—BOS’ first step toward data integration— provides direct access to existing mainframe data of all kinds using standard ODBC/JDBC interfaces. It eliminates the need to transfer data manually across the enterprise and ensures that data is up-to-date. Loaded with mapping facilities, tcACCESS presents the structures of the existing mainframe data to the user in the form of a relational view. It includes a powerful SQL engine on the mainframe that translates ODBC/JDBC calls from an application, which runs in a distributed environment into native database calls on the mainframe, making it very easy for a user to access mainframe data. Clients just need the tcACCESS ODBC driver or server, or the JDBC driver to access mainframe data transparently without the need of mainframe knowledge. Amid the many use cases of tcACCESS, Elisabeth emphasizes that clients can use the tool for report generation on up-to-date transactional information, predefined "views" on transactional data for end-user departments, data virtualization by joining mainframe data and data residing on Linux/ Windows and Unix platforms, application modernization, and web-enablement of mainframe applications.
Furthermore, tcACCESS can also be used for the realization of service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiatives and getting direct access to data, which resides on distributed platforms with mainframe programs.
On the other hand, tcVISION is a comprehensive data integration platform that can share data in real time across the enterprise in heterogeneous environments with mainframe architecture. It is a cross-system solution for the timely, bidirectional data synchronization and replication based on changed data. Typically, data is stored in an EBCDIC format on the mainframe and in ASCII format on non-mainframe systems, which makes it necessary to convert the data for every data exchange process. This conversion is part of the tcVISION solution. tcVISION supports different code pages and Unicode format to handle different languages and time zones. It turns data exchange into a single-step operation, without requiring middleware or message queueing. The data is exchanged in raw format, compressed, and reduced to the processing of changed data. Unidirectional or bidirectional data transfers in real time, time-controlled, or event-based are supported as well.
tcVISION automatically detects data changes (read, update, delete) to databases and files on the mainframe and Linux, UNIX, MS-Windows—without programming effort.
The defining feature of the solution is the different change data capture methods that can be used depending on the frequency of changes at the source, and how up-to-date the data at the target should be. "Our tcVISION solution is designed in a way that the resource consumption for capturing the data on the mainframe is reduced to a minimum. Changes in the source only have to be captured once and can then be applied to multiple different targets," says Elisabeth.
A special highlight of this solution is that backup, unload, and image copy formats of the databases can be used for the initial or cyclic load of mass data from mainframe environments into the desired targets in LUW environments, Cloud, or Hadoop. “These image copy, backup, and unload formats of mainframe data can even be processed on open system platforms, hence eliminating the need to use mainframe resources," states Elisabeth. Besides data extraction, data transformation, and data apply, customers need not worry about issues like backup concepts and recovery & restart procedures if sources or targets of a replication process are interrupted.
The handling of tcVISION is intuitive through a dashboard, which is either Windows or Unix based. Processing and transforming the data is controlled by the rules specified in the tcVISION "repository." The dashboard provides access to tcVISION "design studio" in which the transformation rules, as well as all extraction processes for the data sources can be defined with the help of comfortable wizards.
The tcVISION repository contains all structure information, all replication rules, scripts for data transport, and application to the target systems. It is the central place for control and surveillance of all exchange processes. tcVISION's comprehensive database- and system-specific conversion logic avoids programming effort and makes a fully automated data exchange process possible.
In one instance, tcVISION enabled an Austria-based bank to significantly reduce its mainframe costs through the real-time replication to a less expensive Apache Hadoop environment. "tcVISION performed a very economical log file-based replication," said one of the bank's representatives. "Beyond this, we are now in a position to implement numerous application cases based on the replicated data, which would be too expensive on the mainframe. Real-time event handling, real-time analytics, and real-time fraud prevention are only a few of the use cases we currently cover," he added.
Shaping the Future of Information Technologies
Adjusting to the needs of customers has been the corporate principle of BOS from the very beginning. "We maintain a continuous dialog with our customers. As partners, they are not only users of our solutions but also influence our product management," says Elisabeth, "We guide them through the Proof of Concept, consider their feedback, and work it into our solutions." There are user groups in some countries, and BOS hosts regular information events for customers and partners. "In the events, our customers present their implementations, and we illustrate our development plans and how we included their feedback into our new versions," Elisabeth adds.
In the days to come, the firm envisions opening new ways to use innovative technologies across systems, and ensure their clients' complete independence from platform and database manufacturers. "The task 'integration' is not simple but fascinating and very extensive. It requires employees with the capacity for teamwork and an environment with space for creativity. We are a team of individuals with a pioneering spirit of research and common enthusiasm for what we do. A strong passion for technology and bold visions for the future continuously drive us forwards," concludes Elisabeth.