Forever COBOL: Page 2

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Why move from mainframes to distributed computing?

Faster reaction to changing market conditions and competition

Faster, easier access to information and data

Lower cost of business processes and IT development

"Speed to market" of business products and services

Year 2000 compliance

Inflexible, unstable existing systems and processes

To accommodate corporate acquisitions and restructuring

To accommodate business growth and expansion


How many companies are in which phase of the transition?
Stage 0: Centralized computing running on legacy mainframes

Stage 1: The addition of PCs and stand-alone LANs running workgroup applications

Stage 2: Business apps on PCs or C/S, but dependent on business logic and/or data from legacy mainframes

Stage 3: Apps for one business unit or mission-critical process reengineered for distributed computing--no dependence on legacy app code

Stage 4: Apps for multiple business unit or mission-critical processes reengineered for distributed computing--no dependence on legacy app code

Stage 5: Complete reengineering of all key apps and processes to the distributed model

Source: GartnerGroup Inc., August 1998 survey of 30 small, medium, and large organizations

"If the system is slow or down, the user goes away. He may not come back again later," says Horlander. If the user went away, the shipping data simply wouldn't be entered into the system. Not a good way to track product. So, Horlander needed to improve user service levels, as well as reduce costs.

The first step in the mainframe migration was to port the IBM DL/1 data into a relational database management system. Horlander and his team chose Cincinnati-based Cincom Systems Inc.'s Supra Server database since it was able to run on IBM MVS and HP/UX (in addition to a variety of other OSs).

In 1997, Horlander presented to upper management a cost justification statement for the mainframe migration project. He used his budget of $530,000 for annual mainframe costs (including his unit's share of mainframe hardware and software lease costs as well as personnel costs) as the baseline. The cost of the entire migration--including two additional copies of the Supra database, the HP/UX servers, Acucorp software, and conversion services from Unicon cost less than one year's expenses on the mainframe.

"I used my last mainframe budget as a target against which to measure savings. We had a small payback in year 0," says Horlander. Seagram turned off the mainframe in February of this year and has not looked back.

Seagram Americas spent many years customizing its applications to do very specific things for its business. It couldn't find a shelf package that fit the needs catered for by these applications, says James Harding, marketing manager for Unicon. "We preserved Seagram Americas' investment in these customized applications by converting them so they can run on open systems," he says.

Payback beyond costs

Gerry Cullen also found contracting Unicon to convert his legacy COBOL applications to ACUCOBOL to be cost-effective. Director of special projects for Detroit Diesel-Allison B.C. Ltd., Cullen was worried about being able to make a business case for spending millions of dollars to put in a new enterprise computing platform like R/3 from SAP AG, in Walldorf, Germany. Detroit Diesel was running its mission-critical applications on a Wang VS10,000 minicomputer, which was not Y2K compliant, among other problems. But he just didn't think he could sell upper management on the need to spend millions moving to an open platform.

Happily, he found out he only needed to spend about $400,000, at today's exchange rates, to convert the company's applications from Wang COBOL to ACUCOBOL running on two Data General AV3-650 UNIX machines. This number also included the cost of installing a high-speed Frame Relay network and the purchase of 90 thin client Wyse Winterms.

"We needed to make sure there was a good business reason for what we were doing," says Cullen, in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Although the migration is only scheduled to be finished this month (June), Cullen has already been able to show payback surpassing costs. For example, it used to take four hours to run the month-end financial statements on the Wang minicomputer. On the UNIX box, that job runs in about eight minutes.

By far one of the biggest paybacks of keeping applications in COBOL even after the migration off legacy hardware is that you get to leverage your developers' familiarity and comfort level.

"The screen [in ACUCOBOL] is identical to the old COBOL screen," says Al Halligan, project leader of manufacturing systems support for Seagram. "There was zero retraining."

For now, although both Seagram and Detroit Diesel have moved off their old hardware platforms, they are secure in knowing they can use, maintain, and even add to COBOL applications they've depended on for years. "We're maintaining our [COBOL] applications, tweaking them, making enhancements," says Cullen. "This has brought us from 1980's technology to more current technology--and we didn't have to break the bank doing it."

New lease on life

Like most financial services companies, Central Insurance Co. runs its business on a mainframe. As far as anyone in IT can tell, the auto, home, and commercial insurer will never turn off the mainframe. The expense of migrating, combined with lower manageability, make moving to an environment like UNIX or NT undesirable.

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