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January 2004

Factory rides ACUCOBOL-GT to Windows

L’Oreal migrates 400 programs through Transoft, Acucorp solution

When the end of HP’s support for the HP 3000 turned a working server into an IT risk, a L’Oreal factory and distribution center turned its MPE applications into Windows 2000 code. The project, completed in 2003, shows a method to move 3000 programs and business logic without leaving COBOL’s standards behind.

Jesús Solórzano is IT Manager at L’Oreal’s Xochimilco, Mexico operation, one of seven throughout the Americas. Each year at the plant and shipping facility, 130 million units of shampoos, deodorants, skin creams and L’Oreal’s signature hair coloring products are made for the Mexican market. Some products are also destined for North America and Europe.

Once HP announced it was ending sales and support of the HP 3000, Solórzano said he began to investigate ways to leave the platform. HP had been charging the operation $45,000 a year for hardware and software support on an A-Class HP 3000, Solórzano said.

The manager said support from HP Mexico couldn’t guarantee four-hour response time for the server, which L’Oreal purchased just two years ago. A figure of $100,000 yearly was offered to L’Oreal for mission-critical support services on the A-500 server. HP said parts would be difficult to get, too.

What’s more, Solórzano said that HP could not recommend any resources to integrate ODBC services on the HP 3000 with Visual Basic front ends. The company wanted to create more modern VB GUIs for its programs, some of which were 16 years old at the time of the evaluation.

“HP not only couldn’t support us on what we were trying to do, but they couldn’t find any references or FAQs anywhere in the world. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what happened.”

Growth at the firm posed another problem in staying with the HP 3000, Solórzano said. “Every three years we have to buy a new machine,” he said, “and we didn’t want to invest all that money in a machine that isn’t going to be supported.”

The IT manager cited familiar reasons for leaving the 3000: a lack of expertise and a point of view that new technology wouldn’t be easy to implement on the system.

“It was difficult to find the people necessary to support the MPE environment in our market,” Solórzano said through an interpreter. “It was also very difficult and cumbersome to integrate new technologies. It would be possible, but it would take a long time and the performance would be inadequate. From the point of view of IT technology, it was a commercial disadvantage for the factory.”

Stuck between high-priced support and HP’s lack of information about 3000 development options — several MPE third party vendors do support ODBC and Visual Basic — Solórzano decided the best business move would be away from the HP 3000. But the company didn’t want to replace its application. Instead, Solórzano wanted to migrate his code, to retain the business rules in the programs.

He turned to Transoft for the project, shipping off the programs to the US in December, 2002. The services company used its Legacy Liberator toolset and migration services to convert the factory’s applications from HP COBOL II to Acucorp’s ACUCOBOL-GT, and returned the work to the Xochimilco plant in March, 2003.

The target for the newly-migrated code was an HP ProLiant server running Microsoft Windows 2000. After four months of testing, the factory cut over to the new environment, using its COBOL code now running in ACUCOBOL-GT. The Xochimilco unit saw its hardware-only support bill drop to $1,900 for three years of maintenance. Other support fees for new software are not included in that figure, but the total cost of the transition falls within the company’s budget.

“It’s rare that a project actually falls within the allotted budget and timeline,” Solórzano said. “But this conversion came in right on budget at $240,000, and the only delay with the timeline resulted from our decision to make code modifications due to inevitable changes in the production line.”

The server itself, a 4-CPU HP ProLiant DL740 with 2Ghz processors, cost the company $33,000 above the $240,000 bill for consulting, software and services. But Solórzano said the hardware might have exceeded the factory’s needs, because the new server hasn’t been taxed very hard. The factory is using Microsoft’s SQL Server for its database.

Third-party support options are too risky for L’Oreal, the IT manager added. “We couldn’t afford to contract with sources that weren’t 100 percent reliable,” he said. “That’s why we contracted with HP for hardware and the software support.”

After the ACUCOBOL-GT code arrived at the plant for testing, the IT department there had other issues to manage: temporary files and spooler operations that are different on Windows, as well as user management tasks. But the company had IT staff that was experienced in Windows to make those transition tasks easier, Solórzano said.

The company feels newer technologies like XML and Java are more accessible, now that the firm is using Acucorp’s extend software solutions. The development tool supplier calls these “life-after-migration strategies,” improving application interoperability with computing languages and environments like .NET, XML, Java, and C# as well as more data access to non-COBOL data sources and relational database management systems.

The Xochimilco system, which serves 100 users, now interfaces with Crystal Reports, to deliver reports that can be deployed in several places. An Internet portal is in the future.

Solórzano said his business unit “didn’t have anything against HP-UX in particular, but we learned our lesson with the HP 3000 situation, where we were in a very closed environment. We didn’t want to be in a similar situation in the future. HP-UX, a proprietary system from HP, didn’t seem very attractive. And Unix, even though it’s cheaper than MPE, has support that is still more expensive than Windows.”

“For Windows, I can contract for a lot more resources than I could for HP-UX,” he said. “For HP-UX, pretty much I’d have to go with HP for support again.” Linux presented more risk than L’Oreal could handle.

ACUCOBOL-GT fit into the picture at Xochimilco when Transoft earned the migration engagement. After Acucorp met with Solórzano to present its tools and approach, “We were confident that they satisfied our requirements for a painless migration. We heard many times of tools that promised a transparent migration, but we were pleased to see that this was a pain-free migration for us.”


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