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November 2003

Migration options

Cognos offers its own migration option for its 3000 customers, one that moves MPE/iX PowerHouse applications to the HP-UX environment. At Idaho State University, IT manager Blair Combs said the product’s track record has earned PowerHouse another lap on HP’s new course.

“We are committed to PowerHouse and PowerHouse Web for the foreseeable future,” Combs said. “We have plans in place to move our systems to HP-UX running Eloquence by the end of 2006. We are beta-testing the latest version of PowerHouse for HP-UX that supports Eloquence.”

Combs said the 4GL has kept the IT headcount down for the university. “PowerHouse has provided us the ability to continue developing in-house systems while supporting over 80 existing application systems with only nine full-time staff,” he said. “The stability of the HP 3000 and PowerHouse are second to none. We expect this to continue when we move to HP-UX.”

But some Cognos customers have shown concern over the company’s shift toward BI products, and are researching steps to move away from PowerHouse. CORE Migration, a company operating in Cognos’ headquarters city of Ottawa, has put together a migration suite of tools and services to move customers. One CORE white paper tells the story of an ERP software provider, Visaer, that first shifted away from its MPE PowerHouse roots, then off the 4GL altogether. The company decided that the focus at Cognos had moved away from PowerHouse.

There are two ways of accessing the CORE Migration method, paths which may sound familiar to companies which are studying migration options: CORE-Directed, where the company manages the migration start to finish, and Self-Directed, where CORE plans the migration and trains customers to use its tools. CORE’s VP of Sales and Marketing Wayne Lucky said the CORE-Directed option is fastest, and the majority of its engagements are in this method.

“It depends on the skill set of the customer,” he said, “and whether they want to get involved.”

Visaer came out of the HP 3000 environment with its MRP applications, according to Chief Technology Officer Geoff Andrews of Visaer. The company first created its Visibility MRP application using PowerHouse on MPE, then spun off the product into the aerospace maintenance sector to create Visaer, which Andrews described as software to manage “the medical records of an aircraft.”

Visaer moved away from the HP 3000 and Digital VMS to Oracle and Unix in the middle 1990s, and later used Core to make their transition away from PowerHouse in 2001 and 2002. Andrews said the engagement proceeded as well as he expected, adding that the database work was behind them when CORE began working at Visaer.

“We were already in the relational database environment, so we didn’t have a lot of the issues that CORE’s other customers have, of figuring their way from non-relational database to relational,” Andrews said. “We’d already paid that price with our own staff.”

Andrews said he felt he could have been better prepared for the work with CORE by being more rigorous about analyzing applications.

“I would have been a little more brutal about retiring old and tired functionality,” he said. “We ended up paying for some stuff that probably didn’t need to be converted.”

Regardless of which way the customer proceeds, CORE’s migration is being touted as faster than replacing a PowerHouse application with something off the shelf, or building it from scratch. “Then there’s the added benefit of knowing what you will get before you buy,” Lucky said.

Migration isn’t often associated with rapid results, but CORE stands behind its automation in making the claim.

“Because of our design preservation process, we automatically capture those critical business rules,” Lucky said, “so we eliminate the tedious and time consuming requirement for analysis, functional specs, detailed design the application architecture, those kinds of things. We do all that automatically, and that’s where we save time and money.”

The company uses a workbench that’s made up of a Design Preservation Toolkit, a repository of an object-oriented database and API library, and a Forward-Engineering Toolkit. PowerHouse applications are re-engineered by these tools to the Microsoft .NET or Java environments. IMAGE and KSAM databases are moved to Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase and DB2 databases.

Core says its Migration Repository converts business rules and program instructions to a language neutral format, meaning it removes the PowerHouse syntax specifics. “Because of our technology, PowerHouse similarities are evident in the new technology,” Lucky said. While automation is key to the value in the CORE engagement, Lucky said migrations are never fully automated. Whether through CORE’s engineers or the customer’s developers, some human effort is required to finish each job.

“Even though our goal is to get the automation to 100 percent, we recognize we’ll probably never get there, because of the intricacies in the way PowerHouse and the dictionary deal with the operating system, the database and 3GL programs,” Lucky said. “We tell the customer from 70 to 90 percent of the work can be automated, and the rest is manual.”

The Forward Engineering Tool supports the transformation of PowerHouse specifics. Quiz reports become stored procedures and Active Reports or Crystal Reports; QTP programs become PL/SQL, Transact SQL or Java; and QDesign programs are transformed into ASP.NET — or Java with JSP for the presentation layer and Enterprise Java Beans for the business logic.

CORE’s message to PowerHouse customers is that they are relying on technology that has served them well. “However, newer, modern technologies such as Java and .NET provide additional capabilities and functionality that better meets the demands of businesses today,” Lucky said.

User interface issues don’t motivate PowerHouse migrations as much as these kinds of essential technology choices, he added. Mission-critical applications like those built in PowerHouse represent an investment that most sites find difficult to quantify. The programs grew up before packaged software became available.

“They have written some custom logic in their application that gives them competitive advantage,” he said. “They severely underestimate the time and dollars to move this properly. They think they’ll hire a couple of .NET programmers to recreate the screens.”


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