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April 06, 2010

Middleware, QSS tech breathe life into 3000

Editor's note: Minisoft's Mollie Greenup offered us this vendor-reported customer case study of renovation and migration at K-12 software provider QSS. We've covered the QSS migration for many years, from selection of operating environments to tools and servers. Minisoft reported on how its products impact the QSS mission.

When Hewlett-Packard announced that their future plans did not Include the HP 3000, Duane Percox (QSS senior partner and a company founder) developed a two-phase strategy for moving the company’s suite of applications off the 3000 in a manner that would minimize customers' risk of running mission-critical applications (think payroll) on servers soon to be obsolete. The solution would at the same time modernize the QSS product offerings.

The first step involved replacing the HP 3000’s VPlus screens with a Windows GUI developed using Visual Basic and .NET. This new GUI would connect to a similar COBOL application server and use the same IMAGE databases. This step was labor-intensive and represented the most dramatic changes for the end users. This is the stage of the migration where most QSS customers are today.

The second phase of the project was to replace the 3000s with Linux servers, running SQL Server, or an open source relational database as the back-end. Netcobol was used to migrate COBOL program changes and the associated retraining of the COBOL development team. This phase requires customers to purchase new servers and to potentially retrain IT and application maintenance staff; however, end users would see few differences. But some challenges stood in the way of minimizing customer risks.

Challenges

These steps, coupled with the new direction QSS was going in relation to the new Web-based applications, made for a tricky situation. The new Web-based applications were developed using Ruby on Rails as the framework, a relational database as the data store, and a variety of browsers as the GUI. Ruby on Rails is a Model-View-Controller (MVC) technology which isolates business rules, data access and storage (model) from the Web protocols (controller) and presentation (view) layers.

The Ruby on Rails technology precludes the HP 3000, and thus can only be used by the few QSS customers already running on Linux. Unfortunately, this leaves the majority of the QSS installed base with no Web-based solutions. QSS evaluated various approaches to allow their Ruby on Rails applications access to the vast amount of data stored in Image. If this could be achieved it would provide all QSS customers a modern Web 2.0 browser front-end able to move data to and from their existing HP 3000s. QSS would also have an opportunity to earn new licensing revenue.

The Solution

Enter Minisoft and their ODBC driver for MPE/iX. Minisoft's approach was simple, required no changes to existing system backups, was straightforward to configure. QSS reported that the support was exemplary. In a nutshell, QSS could create Ruby on Rails models that reflected the IMAGE datasets. These models return to the controllers the same information whether it came from the new relational databases or from Image. Once the controllers have the data, the rest of the application, including all generated HTML, JavaScript and Ajax calls, is identical.

Thus, the bulk of the code in the new Web-based applications was entirely database agnostic, thanks to Minisoft's ODBC Driver. This is a promise often cited by Web-based development technologies, but they certainly are not referring to a 30-year-old navigational database known as Image when they make that claim! It would have been even easier to support Image, but QSS made significant structural changes to the Image databases when converting them to relational databases. Much of the effort spent getting Ruby on Rails access to IMAGE was mapping the old IMAGE structures to the new tables and columns.

QSS Conclusions

Jeff Vance, QSS Senior Technologist, said the change and improvements were transparent. “QSS demonstrated the new Employee Self Service Web-based application (ESS) at the QSS Users Group Conference in March 2010," he said. "The audience was unable to guess which screens were populated from the relational databases and which came from IMAGE -- and that is greatest praise of this technology."

As a result of this Users Group Conference, two large California school districts have adopted the ESS technology and are on their way to providing greater functionality to all of their users.

Minisoft's ODBC Driver can extend the life of the HP 3000 -- and in this current economic climate, such product longevity and savings can be crucial to a business's survival. This environment transformed the ODBC driver from a product that was convenient to a mission-critical product overnight. ODBC not only provides greater functionality for all end-users, but it also allows for a consistency among reporting functions. It is truly a seamless and database-agnostic solution for a trusted but slightly aged legacy platform.

Minisoft’s Perspective

To use HP’s “free” ODBC driver, users must set up and define DBE’s (Data Base Environments) before any data can actually be accessed. With Minisoft’s ODBC driver, customers can have direct access to Image and TurboImage databases without having to incur the overhead of Allbase or IMAGE/SQL. Minisoft’s ODBC supports advanced features such as linking to multiple databases, KSAM, and MPE files.

In the case of QSS, Minisoft was able to supply a modern interface, and so extend the value of the HP 3000. This opened up their databases to the end users for reporting and greater functionality. Our family of ODBC, OLE DB and JBDC middleware drivers can meet the task of Web-enabling a legacy application via Java, or implement a VisualBasic or .NET application that facilitates access to a company’s corporate database.

03:20 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink

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