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February 2003

Transition advice shows both fast and thorough paths

Partners tout 4GL’s rapid shifts; re-factoring sets stable groundwork

Third of three parts

Customers in the Houston Southwest Hilton seem to appreciate the good news that Frank Calvillo offers at this stop of HP’s Transition Tour. 3000 sites using a 4GL, they learn, have a path to migration that might be measured in months, rather than years.

Calvillo, Alliance Manager for Platinum migration partner MBS, takes a post-lunch slot in the all-day Transition briefings in Houston. The stop marks the one-year anniversary of HP’s announcement that it’s leaving the market by the end of 2006. After hearing about the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars that most migrations will cost, the briefings restart with news that goes down easier after lunch. Applications written in Speedware, and to a lesser extent in PowerHouse, can get moved quickly to HP’s Unix platforms.

“Speedware put things into their code that let you migrate more easily, because they know you’ll have to do it eventually,” Calvillo says. Operating system switches — conditional statements to look at which platform is hosting the app — let Speedware programmers plan for a shift to HP-UX servers, while the programs run on MPE/iX systems.

While moving 4GL applications to Unix or Windows is straightforward, attendees hear that moving the databases is a bigger challenge. Calvillo demonstrates Speedware’s DBMotion database migration tool for the crowd, whose numbers have dwindled from the morning’s nearly-full room. “The database and the data are where your problems are going to begin,” he says, problems that DBMotion and similar tools can solve.

Calvillo also points out differences in the Speedware and Cognos approaches to migrations. Speedware has its own professional services group to assist companies. Cognos guides its customers to services partners such as MBS, a difference Calvillo chalks up to the smaller size of the Cognos sales organization. Cognos’ code, he adds, is not as portable as Speedware.

“If you take your PowerHouse from MPE to Unix, it’s not going to work very well, because it’s tuned for IMAGE. This is treating Oracle like an IMAGE database, and that’s not going to work,” Calvillo says.

Axiant, a Windows-based Cognos development tool, generates PDL and SQL statements during a transition. Calvillo said that generating SQL is essential to using Oracle to its greatest advantage.

“If you don’t take advantage of SQL inside Oracle, you can’t take advantage of Oracle,” he says. “Even though it costs you 20 to 50 grand to go to Oracle, it’s gonna stink for you if you don’t use it right.” A database administrator, schooled in Oracle, is essential to getting acceptable performance out of the HP-UX database.

Calvillo also had advice for HP 3000 managers hiring an Oracle DBA for the first time. “Ask them about data structure differences [between IMAGE and Oracle], automatic masters, have them draw the map for you. If they don’t understand, you don’t want them working for you.”

Cognos offers courses in Axiant and how to use it to migrate to a relational database, Calvillo adds; he says the course includes a copy of the Axiant software. Both MBS and MB Foster get a mention as partners which are trained in the Cognos migration tools. Calvillo also notes that Sector 7, a partner not participating in the HP Platinum program, also has “extensive experience” with Cognos.

The third most widely-installed rapid development language for the HP 3000s also gets a brief mention. Transact customers are advised that Speedware has a plan to convert Transact to the Speedware 4GL. “Once you’re on Speedware, you can go anywhere you want,” Calvillo says.

Database migrations

HP’s design of the day-long Tour leaves the core of the transition issues for last. Database migrations are the topic for Lund Performance Solutions’ Jim Kramer. But the lifelong developer can’t resist introducing a new idea to the crowd as he demonstrates migration tools. While making all these changes in business systems, he says, a good designer should consider re-factoring.

The concept, which Kramer treats as a diversion during the prepared part of his talk, seems to draw additional interest from the attendees in Houston. It’s a crowd longer on technical experience than management strategy, and this mini-lecture from Kramer has them leaning forward.

If you have many, many lines of code, and you have TurboIMAGE spread throughout your code, you have a very big task ahead of you,” Kramer said. Migrating away from IMAGE means replacing every DBPUT, DBGET and other IMAGE intrinsic with SQL statements. Instead of making all these replacements in an application, Kramer advised an alternative “that introduces better structure, in case, heaven forbid, you have to do another migration in the future. When you do it, you separate the migration into a restructuring part on the 3000 side, and then a migration.”

The process changes where things get done in an application, because “it’s not good programming practice to place TurboIMAGE calls in all modules of your application. The reason it’s not a good practice,” and here Kramer smiles, “is that you may be faced with a migration.” The attendees erupt into laughter, realizing the joke of hindsight being deadly accurate.

Applications should separate their interfaces to the outside world, isolating them to a few modules: file accesses, user interface access, operating system calls, everything outside of the application’s language. “When you do that, if you have to change the environment the application operates in, all you have to do is change those modules.”

This refactoring means isolating IMAGE calls, work that can be done gradually, before the actual migration begins, Kramer explains, to make it low-risk. Refactoring also has performance advantages, since customers can do performance tests on the refactored modules. Rewritten for the target platform, the modules can be tested independent of the application.

“There are a lot of advantages to the refactoring approach, and I strongly recommend it if you’re doing anything other than emulating the MPE environment,” Kramer said.

He has other advice on selecting databases, and who the viable players are in the world outside of the 3000. Eloquence, from Marxmeier AG, “is being touted as a cost-effective replacement for up to 500 users, and is as IMAGE-like as possible,” he says, adding that “nowadays a user is not a user anymore.”

Other alternatives to IMAGE include IBM’s DB2, which Kramer says “represents competition for Oracle on the Unix side.” Not mentioned during the tour: DB2 is the integrated database in IBM’s iSeries servers. Kramer notes that “You want to pick a going concern” when selecting a database, “and that narrows it down considerably. You probably can’t go wrong with a mainstream solution.”

Open source databases, he adds, may be viable, “but you need to consider where your support will come from.” He has other field notes, like “OmniAccess [from DISC] is not as simple to implement as Omnidex was,” and “It’s not nice to fool your database — put data in appropriate types in your target database.” The sorting might take some effort, he says, since there’s 250 ways of representing data in HP 3000 applications.

Broader advice

Kramer wraps up with rules of thumb for migrating that reflect his background in application and software design. “Anything you can do to break your application into steps is highly advantageous,” he says. “Do everything as much as possible in an automated way, with a script rather than by hand — because it documents what you’ve done and allows you to repeat it.”

For sites which have a huge number of applications and databases, “throwing a switch over a weekend — I don’t know about you, but that scares me,” Kramer says. “I would like to do that gradually, through refactoring and remote data access.”

Enhancements to applications need to be frozen out during the migration process. Kramer references the success story presented in the morning session, where Ceridian Tax Services spent $10 million more than budgeted and doubled its migration time by doing Y2K work through its migration.

By sending data to the target platform through automated FTP transfers, then testing, customers might continue to enhance apps on the 3000 during the migration. But it’s most feasible if the enhancements to the 3000 apps came through scripting and automation. “If you’ve changed the modules by hand, it’s tougher, because then you’ve got to change the enhanced modules by hand.”

A flick-of-the switch migration is possible, but “it requires some cleverness,” Kramer says. He explains the Neartek AMXW emulation suite “allows you to use tools in a scripted way” to help automate.

Questions and concern

In the question and answer session that follows, customers ask how soon they need to begin their migrations. The short answer, from Birket Foster, is that many sites need to have already begun.

“You need to start planning from the end — like what date does it become too risky to stay on the 3000?” He mentions testing being added to the time to migrate, then adds, “You probably should have started last year. A lot of folks haven’t got a grip on when they should have actually started.”

A customer wants to know how much the success stories which HP presented have cost the companies who have been succeeding. HP’s Alvina Nishimoto takes the question and steers the answer toward the story of CT3, a software company that cut over in 1995 using Speedware in under a year. Their cost, she says, is $60,000, but the Platinum partners seem to want to set expectations more reasonably. They remind the customer that CT3 already had test suites in place, was a software developer, was further along than most sites will be. The customer repeats, “Then we’re saying the best case is $60,000, right?”

Another customer asks why HP isn’t providing tools to re-factor applications, or convert from VPlus or away from IMAGE. Nishimoto says the wide array of products from third parties is a better choice for the customer, especially since these companies started five years ago in development, when HP “should have started 10 years ago.” She then adds a peek into the future for HP’s software involvement with the 3000 over the next year.

“To be very frank, anything we’d put together would not last very long,” she says. “The third parties’ software is more of a business they’d like to keep going.”

Another customer asks about the caliber of the performance in an emulated solution, such as the ones offered by Ordina Denkart or Neartek. The partners answer that the emulated solutions can often be better than full native rewrites for a target platform.

“I wouldn’t automatically assume that an emulator is slower than a rewrite,” Lund’s Kramer says, adding, “For the typical staff, I’d bet on the emulator,” which draws some laughter from the crowd.

It’s nearing the end of a long day packed with a lot of information, and a reception with pizza, veggie dip and an open bar awaits down the hall. But one customer puts a sharp point on getting HP’s help in weathering the near term, before a migration. HP’s said it will loan customers an HP 9000 free for six months, but admitted many migrations take longer than that, and the loan doesn’t include support, either. Sandra Gill, the MIS manager for oil industry supplier TIW Corp., says her 85-year-old firm needs a homesteading option.

“There’s no way we can afford a migration now,” she says, “so what can you tell us about third party support options?”

HP’s answer follows the party line: it can’t guarantee anything about a third party support solution. “We will not be able to support [these providers],” Nishimoto says. “We’ll make patches available, and we will allow license transfers, and we’re investigating having personnel available to install board upgrades.”

The last resorts, HP’s official adds, are the Microsoft .Net solutions running on HP’s Intel PC hardware, available for less cost than Unix solutions.

One of the last messages HP leaves customers with is about the risk of migration. “The emulation tools minimize the risk, because if you touch code there’s a big possibility it might break,” Nishimoto says. “You can get it running [on another platform], then you can worry about whether you want to re-engineer, and get it more native.”

That solution gets 3000 customers off the hardware, but only far enough away to reduce whatever risk the customers feel in using third party support and hardware channels which many say they’re already considering. “You can’t afford to have your business down,” Nishimoto says in closing. It’s a prospect the attendees must work to avoid, regardless of which path they choose in their transitions.


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