Mainframe Remains Strategic

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2006-02-07 Print this article Print

The firm reinvigorated 420 financial programs stored on mainframe computers. How? By building—from scratch—Web services that can handle millions of interactions a day.

Andrew Brown, Merrill's chief technology architect, says what shouldn't be lost in the excitement around Web services is what the technology means for mainframe applications overall.

"We are making the mainframe strategic to our future. It's a fundamental decision," he says. "Back in the 1990s, it was trendy to say you were migrating off the mainframe. Now, I couldn't predict when the mainframe will go away. If anything, technologies like X4ML have given it new life."

In December, Merrill decided to give X4ML a chance to prove itself in the larger marketplace. The technology was sold for an undisclosed sum to SOA Software, a Los Angeles-based vendor of service oriented architecture systems. Four members of the development team—Crew; Michael Card, a database administrator and one of the chief developers of X4ML; Pillay; and Bruno Vitro, a Java expert who was hired to help develop X4ML—have transferred to SOA Software to shepherd the continued development. X4ML has since been renamed Service Oriented Legacy Architecture (SOLA).

According to Brown, Merrill has a long history of selling off technology that it has developed internally, and that it feels will not threaten its competitive advantage. In return, Brown hopes SOA will be able to further enhance the newly named SOLA, particularly in the area of registry services and by continuing to adopt and implement new security standards.

"We spend a lot of money on technology—billions of dollars a year," he says. "So, we're always looking for ways we can optimize that investment."

For now, Crew and the rest of the X4ML team continue to work from Merrill's Hopewell campus, not far from the stately grounds of Princeton University. Looking out his third-floor window, across a still-unfrozen pond toward Merrill's credit card operations, Crew feels a sense of satisfaction and excitement about the future.

"In many ways, this is the culmination of a life's work," he says. "People like myself have spent their entire careers building mainframe applications, testing and refining them, making them work faster and absolutely reliably. Mainframers see this [Web services] as a way to leverage and build on all of that hard work."

QUESTION: What's the biggest headache your tech team can expect to get from deploying Web services? Let us know at Baseline@ziffdavis.com

Story Guide:

Merrill Lynch & Co.: Web Services, Millions of Transactions;, All Good

  • Unlocking Access to Customer-Service Functions
  • Despite Complexity, Merrill Skipped Middleware
  • Mainframe Remains Strategic
  • Base Case: Merrill Lynch By the Numbers

    Next page: Base Case: Merrill Lynch By the Numbers

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    Contributing Editor
    Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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