GMAC Web-Enables Legacy Data With NEON Systems Shadow Direct
Written By: M. Reed
Published On: March 5 2001
GMAC Web-Enables Legacy Data With NEON Systems Shadow Direct
GMAC Insurance group, a subsidiary of General Motors
Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) was tasked by General
Motors Corporation to build a customer service website. This required
access to multiple years of legacy data in the ADABAS database
system. This case study, provided by the vendor and further researched
by TEC, investigates how NEON Systems' Shadow Direct
product, a part of their iWave Solution, provided the solution.
TEC analyst's comments are interspersed in green.
As part of its commitment to Web services for its more than 400,000 policyholders,
GMAC Insurance began the process of building the first phase of its website.
According to Project Manager Scott Nelson, Phase One is designed to allow
customers to navigate their policy and billing information and pay their
premiums online, at their convenience. (According
to Mr. Nelson, a follow-on to this phase will be a mission critical application
to interface the same ADABAS data with GMAC's customer call center application,
which is also homegrown.) Phase Two will be designed to allow potential
customers to compare various coverage options and calculate rate quotes
online, without having to consult with a customer sales representative.
"The benefits of allowing customers to perform common tasks, with less
dependency on customer support representatives, are tremendous on both
sides of the counter," said Nelson, who anticipates increased sales and
explained the process that led to his company's selection of Shadow Direct.
"We came to the table with an interesting set of challenges," he recalled.
"We had been using ADABAS for many years, and wanted to access our legacy
data and leverage it for new Web applications which we were writing in
Java. We also wanted to access DB2 data, and to hit COBOL sub-routines
for remote procedure calls to DB2 and ADABAS data. That was one tall order,
and I believe that there is no other product on the market that could
have done the needed task as easily and effectively as Shadow Direct,"
Insurance's Lead Programmer/Analyst Jeff Sadler agreed. "ADABAS isn't
a true relational database (ADABAS is a DBMS from
Software AG which is an inverted list DBMS with some relational capabilities,
and one of the first DBMS' on the market, released in 1969), so
interacting with other databases is very tricky," he said. "But Shadow
Direct does a lot with minimal coding, so we get full functionality with
said his company looked at several e-business integration solutions (including
Information Builders EDA gateway and CICS sockets). However, most
of the software products required the Customer Information Control System
(CICS) transaction processing extension, which his branch of GMAC does
not use. "We tried one product that installed horribly and left a huge
footprint in terms of memory and space," Nelson recalled.
said his team also looked at another product but was not impressed with
the product or the sales and support team. "The negative side of one of
the competitive products that we reviewed was that it required a gateway,
and it has read-only capability for ADABAS data," he explained. "And on
the updating side, it required several pages of complicated coding, as
opposed to 20 lines or less for the Shadow Direct product. In terms of
ease-of-use and coding, Shadow Direct is as easy as you can get!"
Shadow Direct, a part of the iWave Solution, provides data access and
legacy application renewal. It allows IBM System/390 users
to readily incorporate data and transactions from DB2, IMS/DB,
IMS/TM, CICS, ADABAS, Sybase MDI RSPs (Remote
Stored Procedures), VSAM and other mainframe sources into a variety
of execution environments, including ODBC and JDBC. By providing direct
client-to-host access, Shadow Direct eliminates the need for database
gateways and associated issues regarding performance, scalability, security,
control, and management (Shadow Direct runs as a
started task on the mainframe).
Direct provides an exceptionally robust and stable e-business integration
infrastructure that enables IT organizations to blend existing enterprise
resources, distributed systems, and emerging technologies with low complexity,
cost, and cycle time. Numerous iWave Solution features and optimizations
combine to deliver high performance, security and scalability, with extensive
diagnostics and monitoring and control capabilities.
Shadow JDBC driver combines the best of Shadow Direct and Java "write-once-run-anywhere"
technology by allowing developers to produce Web applications that transparently
incorporate System/390 data and transactions using the Java JDBC data
access interface. The Shadow JDBC driver supports leading Web application
servers, including BEA WebLogic Enterprise, which
was chosen for the GMAC project.
Systems' iWave Solution for GMAC Insurance allows a GMAC customer to access
information using any Web browser. The request flows through GMAC's Web
server, then through their Web application server, which contains the
NEON Client driver. The NEON Client driver accesses the System/390 mainframe,
where Shadow Direct provides access to DB2 and ADABAS data. Existing logic
developed in COBOL sub-routines participates in the process.
Direct integrates the following software products:
for Java v. 2.0
JDK v. 1.1.7b
Dreamweaver HTML tool
WebLogic v 4.5 Web server and application server
- 2 Sun
E4000s as production servers - one is the Web server, the other is the
system servers on Windows NT
system desktop on Windows NT
Even the Visual Basic demo impressed Sadler. "There is an area where you're
instructed how to use the Shadow Direct psuedo-stored procedure for SQL
calls," he said. "You can access data and have it returned as an ODBC
table. Once I got the data source set up, it rolled. I got something back
from my very first entry. It worked very fast, and I didn't have to go
through tons of coding. I was able to try many 'what-if' scenarios."
was also impressed with the proof of concept phase of the project. During
this phase, NEON worked closely with both their client and BEA. The team
found quick, easy solutions to what Sadler referred to as some "very tricky"
problems, and the proof of concept was completed within four days.
Nelson and Sadler praised the knowledge and responsiveness of the NEON
Systems support team, citing that many issues throughout the project were
resolved within minutes, and most were resolved within one or two days.
During the few instances when a problem required more than one day to
solve, NEON Systems sent status reports each day. (Mr.
Nelson states that the same high level of customer support and fast turnaround
on software issues by NEON Systems continues to this day.)
for the product itself, Nelson remarked that it works "so fast that, at
first, I thought something was wrong!" Nelson has been particularly pleased
with the speed with which Shadow Direct enables his IT people to call
COBOL sub-routines. "With Shadow Direct, we don't have to re-code rules
and calls in Java or some other language. Instead, the very same rules
and calls we use in our mainframe can now be used online and in batch
environments. The results are incredibly fast." According to Nelson, access
to the mainframe has a 98-99% sub-second response time, with access in
the Java environment at approximately one second. "That's FAST," he emphasized.
In addition, "NEON Systems showed an amazing level of customer support
and service from the very beginning, with their ability to support enhancements
that we were looking for."
Analysis of Market Impact
The ADABAS database system is common in larger corporations with lots
of legacy data. Many vendors in the data extract, enterprise application
integration, B2B e-commerce, and customer relationship management arenas
are struggling to find access methods to these types of legacy, non-relational
systems. Examples of other mainframe systems that can be accessed with
the Shadow Direct component of the iWave solution are DB2, IMS/DB, IMS/TM,
CICS/TS, VSAM, and partitioned datasets (PDS's). It is important to note
that Shadow Direct runs as a started task on the mainframe, therefore
it does not need a CICS transaction. It is fairly common for customers
to not have CICS, especially in an IMS environment. Also, the lack of
a gateway requirement is a strong competitive differentiator.
all vendors in this market are going to have to develop this capability,
or partner with another vendor such as NEON Systems, IBM, ETI (Evolutionary
Technologies), or IBI (Information Builders)
to provided it. Access to legacy data for historical information is becoming
increasingly more critical, especially in areas such as customer relationship
management and supply chain management.
Most IT professionals in larger companies have had to deal with legacy
data access issues. Years ago, this involved the difficult and time-consuming
task of writing custom code (typically in COBOL) to access multiple data
sources and produce internal reports. The advent of the Internet, B2B
and self-service applications now mandates that development cycle time
for these data access capabilities be as short as possible. Customers
should investigate the sources of data that may need to be queried to
provide data to external-facing applications, and plan for acquiring products
that meet those needs, preferably one product for all data sources which
does not require any of the legacy data to first be extracted into "flat
files". The product should also have an elegant method of dealing with
some of the common oddities found in files created by COBOL programs,
such as repeating groups (these types of oddities are technically known
as "Occurs", "Occurs Depending", and "Redefines" clauses).