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July 2003

Expeditors moves more than clients’ shipments

Worldwide 3000 customer makes AMXW its keystone in transition

The $2.2 billion company manages the movement of billions of dollars worth of cargo each year. But Expeditors International is moving something just as vital as its global logistics customer shipments this year. One of the largest HP 3000 customers is moving its applications away from the 167 HP 3000s which it runs, heading into the world of hardware-independent platforms.

The target platform for the move hasn’t been decided yet. IS Project Manager Lori Fritz said the company is considering suppliers beyond HP, including Sun or a vendor which could offer platforms for Microsoft’s Windows 2000/NT. Whatever the destination, Expeditors is using the vehicle of Neartek’s AMXW emulation suite to make its move away from MPE/iX.

The project shows the power of using software to emulate the MPE environment on non-3000 hardware. In this type of emulation, any Windows or Unix platform can host HP 3000 applications, making the new operating environment behave as if it were MPE/iX by accepting commands, batch jobs and database intrinsic calls.

Fritz said the decision to shift away from the HP 3000 platform — the company has used it for more than two decades — was made before she began to manage the actual migration of programs and data. She said the company decided it could not continue with the 3000 without a worldwide support operation backing up its IT staff. HP ends its worldwide support of the system in December, 2006.

“You don’t want to be on an unsupported platform with an office in Bombay, or Madagascar,” she said.

Worldwide support is more important to Expeditors than to many HP 3000 customers. Operating on six continents in 168 offices, the company forwards air and ocean freight, performs vendor consolidation and customs clearance, handles marine insurance and other international logistics services. Its profits are on the rise, too, posted at $25.1 million for its latest quarter.

Expeditors employs more than 150 IT workers in its core IS group, and the company identifies the HP 3000 servers by name in its corporate Web site. Fritz has been leading a team of six full-time developers in the transition effort since May, 2002. Expeditors works with its own in-house developed applications, connected over a global wide area network. Fritz said her work has been an extension of her 11 years supporting the company’s 3000s and its applications.

“We have all of our applications converted and we’re in QA,” Fritz said. The company plans to install its first branch over the next month or so. The rollout away from the 3000 is planned to be complete by the end of 2004, because of the company’s business reach.

“Based on the fact that they’re deployed worldwide, it’s going to take us some time to convert that data,” she said.

She said that AMXW works for Expeditors because it’s hardware-independent, works with Unix, and “it’s the most extensive MPE emulation tool to support our environment.” The product’s COBOL code converter — the new code emerges in MicroFocus COBOL — and a macro expansion component allows the company to maintain a single set of source code for both the HP 3000s still in operation and the new platform.

“We don’t have to split the code and do several updates,” Fritz said. AMXW’s SPL-to-C converter has also been key, “because we have a lot of code in SPL” in the application. The software suite also emulates file types unique to MPE/iX; at Expeditors, that means the applications’ circular and message files can be supported on the new platform.

The company is also making use of UDC and script support in the emulation suite, and added that AMXW has created a batch facility under Unix to emulate the MPE batch environment. “We run a lot of jobs on the system on a 24x7 basis,” Fritz said.

“It feels like an HP 3000 when you’re in their shell,” Fritz added.

Performance changes

Emulation carries a reputation for taxing hardware, which makes performance issues a concern for companies considering the strategy. Fritz said that Expeditors did testing on the applications to spot places where performance had to be improved.

“We went back and made some changes to the source code to improve performance in some places,” she said. Another aspect of emulated solutions uses wrappers around calls to the IMAGE database, so databases such as Oracle, DB2 or SQL Server can handle the 3000’s data. ORDAT’s ti2SQL software emulates the 3000’s IMAGE database inside a relational database. The end result is CLI calls native to the Unix-based database.

HP’s Platinum migration partners report that wrappers around intrinsics can have performance implications, but Fritz said “performance has been comparable” to the company’s HP 3000 native solution. Expeditors is working with DB2 for its new applications database.

Fritz said the performance testing has taken place on an HP server, with some parts tested on NT systems, as well as on Sun servers. She said the platform flexibility that AMXW provides was a key benefit to picking the solution.

“That’s why we chose Neartek’s product, because we could go any route we wanted, because they’re hardware independent.”


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