Teaching Old CICS Apps New Tricks
Case Studies | How To | Performance| by Jerry Rackley
The HostBridge team recently spent time working onsite with a global financial services company. The purpose of the engagement was to accomplish three different but equally important goals related to making CICS applications available while remaining sensitive to performance and CPU cycle usage:
  1. Reduce CPU consumption from high volume CICS socket I/O
  2. Identify other performance issues with these high-volume CICS applications
  3. Integrate Salesforce with a back-end CICS billing system

Goal 1: Reduce Overhead of CICS Socket Support I/O

The first project goal was to find a way to make a core business process, implemented using CICS socket-based transactions, more efficient. Ideally by lowering the CPU time consumed.  This company’s customers, many of them retail partners, send requests from various external applications for financial information and credit data. These requests trigger CICS transactions. The architecture that manages these requests was built decades ago and uses TCP/IP socket connections to exchange requests and responses. HostBridge offers a replacement solution for CICS Sockets Support that exploits more current techniques for performing socket I/O in a CICS environment.  As a result, HostBridge Socket Support (HBSS) requires much less CPU and can run zIIP-enabled in various contexts. Typically, after implementing HBSS, CPU consumption associated with socket I/O is immediately reduced by about 25%. This reduction comes before additional gains are realized by exploiting the zIIP-enablement of HBSS. Thus, for applications doing high-volumes of socket I/O, HBSS is a simple and easy-to-implement alternative to reduce CPU consumption and improve response time. For this particular customer, these performance gains were easy to get. All that was necessary was to:
  1. Install HBSS
  2. Relink the programs to use HBSS instead of CICS Socket Support
No changes were required to the application source code to get the benefits of more efficient socket I/O with HBSS. These efficiencies created a throughput benefit as well. Said HostBridge co-founder and CEO Russ Teubner, who consulted on this effort: “When you save CPU in a region that’s handling millions and millions of requests, it always results in reduced response time. In the real-time financial services market, response time or lowering latency is everything. It gives the firm more breathing room with its service level agreements.”

Goal 2: Gain Performance Insights to Further Reduce Inefficiencies

Another goal for this engagement was to identify other possible inefficiencies in high-volume CICS transactions to gain further performance benefits. To do this, the HostBridge team installed the HostBridge Transaction Analytics Connector (HTAC), software that correlates non-mainframe service requests to the actual work done inside CICS to process those requests. Insights from HTAC made it clear that there were some significant inefficiencies in the code running in the socket-owning CICS region. Using the detailed performance data from HTAC, the HostBridge team was able to isolate inefficiencies within the socket application code and propose changes. Working with the client, a handful of low-risk/high-impact changes were made and tested.  The results were compelling:  the CPU consumed by the CICS region (not just the socket application) saw a 50% reduction. “We’ve had a lot of experience re-engineering socket-oriented applications over the last two decades,” said Teubner. “We used performance insights from our tooling, combined it with our expertise, and identified simple changes. These changes drove significant CPU savings beyond this client’s expectations, and even my own.” While the performance benefits were substantial, the program changes were not. Altogether changes were made to two programs involving a total of about 50 lines of code. In conjunction with implementing HBSS, CPU consumption in the socket-owning region was cut by half.

Goal 3: Integrating SalesForce with CICS

Like many organizations, this company uses Salesforce as their enterprise CRM platform. However, Salesforce and their CICS-based Billing system have proven difficult to integrate. As a result, it took a significant amount of manual work to redundantly enter new customer data from Salesforce into the Billing system. This customer’s vision of the ideal solution was to expose components of the Billing system as RESTful web services. Then, as appropriate, the customer data already held within Salesforce could be used to populate the Billing system (e.g., using a RESTful service named createNewCustomer). This would allow seamless propagation of new customer information into the Billing system as a standard part of the workflow.  While the attributes of the integration solution were known, a means for creating it were proving elusive.  This customer spent many months studying possible ways to achieve this level of integration.

Integrating Salesforce with CICS using a RESTful service.

As a result of our CICS performance work with this customer, they became aware of the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js), our CICS integration and orchestration platform.  HB.js is a server-side JavaScript implementation that runs natively under CICS and is zIIP-enabled.  Enterprises use HB.js to author integration scripts that orchestrate the invocation of multiple screen-based transactions and/or programs.  This approach allows enterprises to build modern business services to make existing application assets available. This customer installed HB.js in a CICS test region for a Proof of Concept projectThis let us demonstrate how easy it is to use HB.js to create a web service to meet their integration requirements.  To do this, James Alexander, Director of Technical Services for HostBridge, went onsite to demonstrate how to expose components of their CICS Billing system as RESTful web services.  In fact, while onsite, James authored the script to integrate Salesforce and the Billing system, taking just 5 hours to complete it.  In total, from the identification of HB.js as a potential solution, to the completion of the POC project, only 3 business weeks elapsed.

Let Us Help You Get Similar Results

If your organization needs any of the things described in this article – better performance, more efficient use of CPU, or integration of CICS applications with Salesforce (or any other external software), we can help. HostBridge provides free software to develop prototype or pilot web services. Furthermore, we are willing to support pilot projects at no cost to you. To find out how you can get results similar to what this article describes, simply submit the form below.
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