IBM's transaction processing system is still going strong
What is it?
IBM's long-lived online transaction processing system was originally known as Customer Information Control System, but is usually called Cics.
It is still part of the essential armoury of the mainframe professional, but just as happy with the 21st century line-up of Java, Websphere, Soap and browsers as it used to be with IMS, JES2, JCL and TSO.
Where did it originate?
Cics made its first appearance in July 1969 and is 35 years old this summer. Until recently, it was described as a Transaction Processing Monitor.
What is it for?
Functioning as an application server - although the term was not coined until several decades after Cics was launched - Cics provides support for "instantaneous" transactions, such as ATMs, ticket sales and online share-dealing.
IBM says there are more than 30 billion Cics transactions a day, and that over one trillion dollars is transferred via Cics. As the volume of global financial transactions grows, Cics seems assured of a strong future.
What makes it special?
Cics is tried and tested, central to the operations of most of the world's large corporations and adaptable enough to survive major transformations in the way computers are used.
It provides a runtime environment within which business logic written as Enterprise Java Beans can interoperate with business logic written in Cobol, PL/I, C and C++. These components are binary-portable between Cics and Websphere. Using Soap for Cics, Cics-based applications can be accessed as web services.
How difficult is it to master?
You can undertake IBM's Cics fundamentals course with a basic knowledge of data processing, but the road to mastery is through classroom sessions at £300-plus a day.
You will need to take up to six courses to become a Cics application programmer, application designer or systems programmer. Java or DB2 specialists have a fast track in.
What systems does it run on?
OS/390, z/OS, Unix (including AIX), OS/400 and Windows, among others.
What is coming up?
Version 5.1 of IBM TXSeries for Multiplatforms, which includes both Cics and the Encina application server for AIX, HP-UX, Solaris 9and Windows, was shipped in April this year.
Rates of pay
Rates are highest in the financial sector, where a Cics systems programmer could look for up to £38,000, and Cics consultants with several years' experience could be offered considerably more. There is still a thriving contract market for Cics.
Cics is taught in many academic computing courses. There is a thriving third-party sector offering training in IBM mainframe skills. You could also look for Cics training online, but you are unlikely to find anything free on the web.
For more on Cics training, click here>>