Compuware Topaz Workbench Review

Replacing ISPF tasks with Topaz Workbench


What is our primary use case?

We are using the Topaz Workbench to replace file access, browsing, and editing  activities currently done in ISPF.  Also using XPEDITER in Topaz to debug programs.

How has it helped my organization?

The smart editor helps because it includes code completion technology, cutting down keyboard strokes. The flexibility of having a window longer than the ISPF max lines on a screen allows more lines to be viewed to get a better view of the code without the need to print it.

I've talked to some people who use it for applications and they are seeing that with the combination of our source management plugin and using the SlickEdit editor in Topaz, as well as being able to have the Host Explorer, is an improvement over ISPF. They have been able to see a savings of one day a week.

We can develop in parallel today on ISPF, but it is giving us the advantage of the newer interface into the mainframe programming languages that younger programmers can use and are familiar with, rather than using the ISPF green screen. Our intention is to use Topaz for the next generation of mainframe developers to maintain mainframe applications. As we hire new people, if they're familiar with an Eclipse environment, which Topaz is included, we can get people to become productive faster, because all they have to learn is the language. They don't have to learn how to manipulate through a green screen.

Another advantage of using Topaz is for IT personnel that are not familiar with the mainframe to now have an interface into our z/OS environment with an environment similar to the Windows Explorer interface instead of using TSO/ISPF.

I have also found that XPEDITER under Topaz is easier to use than the old green screen.  It is easy to save breakpoints in Topaz and reuse the test in Topaz than from a green screen in either CICS, or ISPF.

What is most valuable?

One of the features that I like is that I can open up and move tabs outside the eclipse window to different screens in a multi-screen environment, and I'm able to expand it to see a larger amount of code than I could see on an ISPF screen.

I also like the hyper links for datasets when looking at JCL that can be used to look at contents of files.

What needs improvement?

At this time I do not know of additional improvements from my perspective.  Over the last year, Compuware has made major improvements to the JES Explorer, which used to be the biggest negative.

There are some tools in ISPF that are not available outside of ISPF right now, things the programmers may need to look at. They still have to go to the green screen for a few things.  Since we have the free version of Topaz, we do not have access to the new 3270 emulator that can handle this situation in Eclipse. 

We have noticed that Topaz supported Eclipse environments are rather old.  It would be nice if Topaz were compatible with the more current Eclipse releases.  The Topaz product seems to hold back the version of Eclipse we are able to use in our environment.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It's very stable. We haven't had any issues. The biggest hiccup is that Topaz doesn't always play well with the IBM products that we have integrated in our Eclipse environment we have built, when installing it. The person who's doing it has to basically rebuild the Eclipse environment when he puts maintenance on to Topaz. 

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is not a problem. I've been doing some testing with files that I have access. I can scale it, bring up all my datasets that I need to look at. It works just fine. I can add new filters, whatever I need.

With how we have configured Eclipse, it takes a couple of minutes to initialize, but once it is up, the performance is very good.

How are customer service and technical support?

When I have had to contact customer support they have been very helpful at resolving the issues. 

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We've just been using ISPF. The decision to bring Workbench to our organization came about because we had the Compuware products, File-Aid and Xpediter, and they provided a free version of Topaz that includes Host Explorer, Slick-Edit and the interfaces to our Compuware products we currently license.  A colleague that is familiar with other products commented that Topaz is one of the best products he has seen.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is very simple.  Again, since we are combining multiple products from different vendors, we have to be careful about the version of Eclipse and the order we install the product into eclipse.  Sometimes this takes a few tries to get it right.

For deployment, zip up the eclipse program files and a default workspace.  These files are sent to our desktop management group who deploy the software using Big Fix.

We also recommend that the developers back up their workspace to a network drive on a regular basis so that they can recover if there workspace gets or they make a change and want to back it out.


What about the implementation team?

We did it all in-house.

What was our ROI?

It depends on what the programmer is doing. It might save them one to two hours in a week, and as much as one day per week. It depends on how much programming they're doing, and what they are doing in their day.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We've looked at some competitors. The only potential competitor might be IBM, with their IDz product. It has an integrated compiler with it. Topaz does not.

What other advice do I have?

Look at it very closely. If you don't have anything, Topaz is great to start with, especially if you're a Compuware shop, since it is free for Compuware clients.

I've been using it more often because we added an Eclipse plug-in for our source management system.   Now, we can start really taking advantage of the Eclipse environment for  our mainframe development.

We don't have an automated testing solution, at least for unit testing. Any automated testing that's done is done more at the user-acceptance or QA-testing stages. That's been done mostly with Rational Functional Tester. We are probably going to be looking at an automated process within the next year or two. We will consider looking at the Total Test product from Compuware, since it plugs right in.

We have built a single Eclipse environment for all products. We use the P2 installs for the products, including Topaz, and put them into a single Eclipse instance that has a combination of IBM products, our source management product, and other products. We try to have a single Eclipse instance to handle all the application development needs for mainframe developers.

As for providing intelligent insights into programs and data, we haven't used the Topaz piece for that very much. We've got an IBM product, Application Discovery, to give people a little more insight into their programs and their systems. And that's another Eclipse product, so it is included in the Eclipse environment. We've basically chosen to go a hybrid route with products that we already have.

We have 30 or 40 people using it on and off. A lot of them are application programmers. It requires less than one FTE for deployment and maintenance. It's pretty simple to maintain.

I expect our usage to increase. There are going to be some people who won't use because they don't want the learning curve and are very adept at maneuvering around ISPF.  The eclipse environment is going to be very beneficial as we replace retiring developers with younger developers that are familiar with Eclipse.

I would rate it an eight out of ten. It is a great tool. There are just a few things that you have to get used to. 

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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