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February 2005

Migration strategies vary from in-house to outsource

Firms prepare for self-sufficiency, but engage outsourced help to complete their journeys

HP 3000 customers have always prided themselves on their hands-on approach to computing services. A customer base with many small- to medium-sized IT shops has a history of self-reliance. Some migrating customers, however, are finding that outside resources engaged today will help them use new platforms tomorrow — independently.

Take the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, for example. The TRSL had been an HP 3000 shop since 1980, but it finally switched off its MPE system last fall, a choice that IT Director Doug Smith said almost brought tears to his eyes. But to keep the crying to a minimum in a new future with HP 9000 servers, Smith engaged Speedware to help train his staff before the cutover.

The Series 979/200 HP 3000 has been replaced with a pair of rx5640 HP-UX servers linked with HP-UX ServiceGuard for failover capability. TRSL also replaced its IMAGE database with Oracle — and the Speedware training included a week with key programmers on the differences between the two databases.

As often happens, when TRSL first cut over to Oracle and Unix, a few glitches emerged as users accessed the Speedware application on the HP 9000. But the training that Smith’s staff received let them demonstrate their independence right away.

“When we put 200 users on, we had to increase some parameters in Oracle, and in the Unix operating system,” Smith said. “But even at that, my staff found the problem and fixed it. I can’t brag enough about how they took over and learned their way around Unix.”

Smith praised the training from HP, which provided two weeks of HP-UX classes, and Speedware, which trained key programmers in the differences between using Speedware under MPE versus Unix and IMAGE versus Oracle. He added that the learning curve was shorter because much of his staff didn’t have to unlearn MPE.

“Our key people have been on the HP 3000 for years, but I had a fairly new and young programming staff below that,” Smith said. “They didn’t have to unlearn a lot, and that really helped.”

Key developers and support staff at TRSL got a second week of training on the HP-UX fundamentals from HP. The less senior staff hired straight from college took to Speedware easily, Smith said, “because it’s a 4GL, Visual Basic type of language, and they were familiar with that type of environment. It was a good training effort by Speedware and HP, mainly.”

In time, the TRSL programming staff took the lead on the migration effort after Speedware’s early involvement. After Speedware had changed the embedded MPE commands to Unix equivalents, TRSL programmers initially had a lot of questions for Speedware. “Then it got to the point at the end of the project where Speedware was calling us, asking us how it was going,” Smith said.

Business growth sparks help

At another Speedware site, an explosion of business growth has changed in-house intentions to an outsourced engagement. Speedware will be going on the job to help finish a migration at Virginia International Terminals (VIT), one of the earliest subjects that HP offered as a success in its migration campaign. VIT planned to complete its migration by this year. But a steep increase in shipping into the Virginia ports the VIT coordinates has delayed the migration.

IT Director Clark Farabaugh said VIT remains committed to migrate off its HP 3000s. But now Speedware will be engaged in a services contract to port highly customized programs off VIT’s N-Class HP 3000s. When VIT decided to migrate, only one N-Class was running in Farabaugh’s shop. The business boost has prompted him to add a second HP 3000 while HP was still selling the servers new.

The delay gives Speedware a shot at helping VIT arrive at a successful migration. Farabaugh said that a migration on the original schedule, with no outside help, wouldn’t have been a good choice.

“We had to make a choice,” he said. “Do the migration now, and tell operations management we couldn’t handle any extra cargo — and that really wasn’t an option. When you’re in the IT business these days, you have weave and bob with the way the wind’s blowing.”

VIT’s migration is now scheduled to complete in June, 2006. In the meantime the company is training its staff on Oracle and Unix. VIT also purchased a Server Expansion Unit for its original loaned HP 9000 system. The company was among the very first to take advantage of the HP loaner program announced in 2002.

“That effectively doubled the number of partitions we’re got,” Farabaugh said of the extension. “We’ve got the hardware, the licenses and all the infrastructure in place. It’s just that we had to take a slightly different approach to who was going to move the code.”

VIT will be doing its own testing and quality assurance of the migration work that Speedware will perform. “For the mechanical aspects of moving the code, we’re just paying other people to do that for us,” Farabaugh said.

Timing on the project is exacting. Cargo terminals have a busy season that matches the year-end retail sales season in the US. With US West Coast terminals overwhelmed, major retailers such as Wal-Mart have started to target the East Coast of the US as a terminus for freight shipments from the Pacific Rim. Ships move due west, through the Suez Canal, then on to the mid-Atlantic seaboard terminals.

VIT’s migration will have to be complete and tested by next summer to ensure the new Unix-based system is ready for the 2006 retail season. Each application will have a self-contained project plan, with testing performed throughout the next year-plus.

“We’re not going to move all the code, then test it during a date range,” Farabaugh said. “It will be a big moving process, with sub-processes going on.”

Some of the applications Speedware will port are “incredibly complicated,” Farabaugh said, “with the UI written in Speedware, then you’ll have COBOL subroutines, and hand-held computers in the field that integrate with the core application, and EDI processes bringing data from outside. It’s real tedious with a lot of pieces, and it’s not a matter of tweaking the intrinsics in the code, changing the IO calls and off you go.”

Instead, VIT “ratcheted up” its relationship with Speedware, giving the vendor a chance to improve the code inside VIT applications while they migrate it. Oracle experts inside VIT “want to get their hands around a big Oracle database.”

Other companies have helped alongside Speedware. Transoft used its Legacy Liberator suite, in a remote engagement via VPN, to replace the JCL calls in VIT applications. Transoft has also worked on MicroFocus COBOL replacements and built Oracle database schemas.

While its in-house staff expanded automation initiatives on the 3000s, VIT had to face the fact that its own resources were already at full capacity.

“Our business objectives clobbered the daylights out of our IT staff, and forced us to put the migration on the back burner,” Farabaugh said. “It was always my goal to do this with my staff. But even if I’d brought consultants in, we wouldn’t have had the resource to do that. The outsourcing model works best for us.”


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