Intranets: The price of popularity: Page 4

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"We've had a few interim capacity problems, but the only really serious glitch was when we connected McDonnell Douglas people on the fourth of Aug. 1997."

-Graeber Jordan, The Boeing Co.

And that case-by-case method of riding the intranet tiger has, for the most part, worked. "We've had a few interim capacity problems, but the only really serious glitch was when we connected McDonnell Douglas people on the fourth of Aug. 1997," says Jordan. The existing Boeing intranet users and the 55,000 McDonnell Douglas users added to the intranet were like two gangs of kids invading a candy store. Employees from both halves of the merged company spent several days in a free-for-all, looking "under the covers" at the inner workings of their former rival.

To deal with the flood, Jordan says, a few sites had to be rehosted and others made temporarily less accessible. Once the two companies successfully merged though, demands on system resources returned to expected proportions.

When it came to Boeing's ERP system, Jordan says the company recently requested that Baan Co. N.V., its supplier, provide an updated version with a Web portal. "We wanted everything to be accessible through the Web browser," he adds. Baan is not alone in responding to the intranet.

A common platform

The desire to make the browser the standard corporate interface for both new and legacy systems seems to be driving intranet growth in most organizations. Sandy Taylor, director of analyst services at Software Productivity Group (SPG), in Natick, Mass., notes that corporations used to have to jump through hoops to build worldwide applications. With all the specialized middleware that was required, she says, "it was like having a root canal." Add in the complex maintenance requirements and it became a form of permanent torture. "The common TCP/IP protocol gives companies a common platform they never had before," says Taylor.

A majority of companies (46%) are currently using intranets to manage networks and systems, and many others (30%) are either planning or investigating its use for management.

That was, in part, the experience when the Supreme Court system of New Mexico faced the need to make reams of court documents, cases, and aggregate data available on an intranet (and eventually to the general public over the Internet). The court tackled its problems with the help of a Prolifics three-tier development environment. Mike Copley, assistant director of IT for the New Mexico Supreme Court, says the product provides both security and links between application servers and transaction servers.

Although the court system did not have a traditional legacy system, it did have a recently completed, client/server-based case management system. But building the intranet "increased the expectations beyond anything anyone had anticipated," admits Terrie Bousquin, director of the judicial information division, Supreme Court of New Mexico. Fortunately, she and her team, including Copley, took a phased approach. An infrastructure consisting of 70 IBM RS-6000s was built with the intranet in mind. "We started with the local case management system then expanded from there to include the whole intranet and now the general public through the Web," she says.

Intranet-database connection

At Partners Healthcare in Boston a similar phased approach is being used in the construction of an intranet that spans several large healthcare organizations, including sprawling Massachusetts General Hospital. Again, access to database resources provided critical.

The first component that went live is an intranet application that provides an electronic resource/locator directory for some 22,000 desktops and is easily accessible through Web browsers. The application was subsequently enhanced by adding paging capabilities, ensuring that up-to-the minute information on the location of any physician at all times--as well as the physician's availability--is easily accessible. The Intranet application also includes e-mail, multiple feeds from hospital operators, Interactive Voice Response, and Web access.

Ethan Fener, corporate manager for information systems at Partners, says the project might have fizzled if the company had relied on MUMPS-based legacy databases running on a variety of minicomputers. Using MUMPS, a programming system developed originally at Massachusetts General Hospital for healthcare applications, just couldn't provide the reliability or response time that the paging and directory system demanded. "This is something where seconds count," says Fener.

Fener notes Partners ended up selecting Caché, made by InterSystems Corp., in Cambridge-Mass., which is billed by the vendor as a "post relational database." Using Caché to migrate legacy MUMPS data, he says, has provided paging response times that are typically in the neighborhood of 10 seconds.

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