Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moving BI off the Mainframe

When IT professionals use the acronym "MF" in the near future, they may no longer be referring to "Mainframe" as they have for decades. Instead, that term may soon stand for "Micro Focus."

So how could a UK-based software vendor replace the Big Blue Mainframe?

Well, I am seeing it first-hand with a client that is swapping their IBM MVS/TSO platform for Red HatEnterprise Linux. All applications and data move off the mainframe and are exchanged for Micro Focus substitutes.

The magic sauce to mainframe modernization comes in the form of the Micro Focus Enterprise Server, which basically provides a mainframe replica on a cheaper box. One major benefit is that mainframe Job Control Language (JCL) batch processes can be ported as-is to a mid-range computer. Differences between the mainframe and the new platform are hidden under the covers.

For example, the mainframe dataset names (including PDS libraries, GDGs, etc.) are kept in the legacy JCL code. Even though the job now runs on completely different technology, it continues to use mainframe terminology. This is possible because Micro Focus handles an underlying cross-referencing via a system catalog connecting mainframe names with their real physical file correspondents.

Within Enterprise Server, Micro Focus provides a full application development and deployment environment for COBOL and PL/1 technologies. Also, common IBM utilities used within JCL code have Micro Focus replicas.

Micro Focus stresses the importance of modernization while minimizing risk. Their technology enables companies to leverage existing (and often substantial) investments in applications while running them in newer, less expensive environments. The vendor makes the following points about using their mainframe re-hosting technologies:
  1. Moving application development off the mainframe to a cheaper platform (e.g., Windows, Unix, or Linux) can provide additional CPU capacity for each developer, eliminate resource contention, and improve delivery times
  2. Moving testing off the mainframe can overcome capacity barriers and help developers meet schedules on time and on budget
  3. Moving workload off the mainframe can provide rapid cost savings in mainframe MIPS and software costs

On their website, Micro Focus tells how several customers have saved large amounts of money moving off the mainframe. For example, Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, saved a quarter million dollars each year, achieved three- to four-fold improvements in their batch processing times, and achieved ROI within one year by moving to Micro Focus.

Munich-based Stahlgruber GmbH migrated from the mainframe to Linux, saving 70% of the costs and achieving ROI in less than two years. In addition, Stahlgruber saw a dramatic improvement in computing performance. One program that took forty-five minutes to run on their mainframe zipped along on a four-processor Linux box finishing in only four minutes.

Other Micro Focus success stories include Tesco, the leading UK food retailer; the City of Inglewood government in the US State of California; and the Kansas City Southern Lines railroad (which cut annual mainframe maintenance costs by 90%).  

At my particular client, our team is responsible for moving legacy FOCUS 4GL applications to a WebFOCUS Linux environment. Our first objective is to port existing batch jobs off of the expensive platform to achieve cost reductions. Once that has been done, the client will then take advantage of new BI features available in the WebFOCUS product.

To reduce time, cost, and risk of porting FOCUS to WebFOCUS, we also leverage Partner Intelligence's BI Modernization Workbench to simplify the up-front analysis work and to automate any manual code conversion work.

About Me

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I am a project-based consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting.