Editor's Note: Four years ago we reported on the migration mission at the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana, a Speedware lift and shift to HP's Unix. Conversion and migration supplier UNICON offers the following report of a mission from a similar organization, converting to an all-Windows environment after two decades of 3000 application use.
By James Harding
UNICON Conversion Technologies
The Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System is an agency set up to provide retirement benefits to Oklahoma’s education staff. Based in Oklahoma City, the TRS employs nearly 50 individuals and oversees a pension fund valued at approximately $10 billion. While the TRS’s active members are all located in Oklahoma, its retirees are located all over the world. The TRS has spent many years and dollars customizing its Client Accounting System for the HP 3000 and designed to manage pension funds for active and retired members. The system was predominantly written in HP COBOL, utilizing Suprtool and VPlus screens and accessing a TurboIMAGE database.
When HP announced its end-of-life decision for its HP 3000 business, the TRS was forced to review its options going forward. Finding a replacement package software product was an impossible task — even a package remotely similar would require heavy customization to bring it in line with current needs. Re-writing for a new platform was too costly, time-consuming and would introduce an unacceptable level of risk.
TRS wanted to retain its valuable investment in the existing applications and felt that migrating them to an open systems platform presented the best option. TRS reviewed two ways of doing this: emulation and native conversion. While emulation offered a way to run on open systems hardware, it introduced a proprietary emulation layer between the code and the operating system -- thereby locking TRS into the proprietary MPE environment and also rendering them dependent upon the emulation vendor after migration.
The alternative was UNICON’s offering — migration to NATIVE open systems without using emulation middleware — by converting the legacy COBOL to the pure open systems COBOL of TRS’s choice, running in either native Unix or Windows and conversion of the data to the RDBMS of TRS’s choice, by using UNICON's in-house developed automated conversion tools to convert the source and data.
“We looked at converting the legacy code to one of MicroFocus’s products,” said Rocky Cooper, IT Manager for the TRS. “We wanted our applications to run in open systems. UNICON offered a completion timeframe we were comfortable with and they didn’t require extensive and costly front-end analysis and preparation.” The non-proprietary approach was also particularly attractive from a budgetary standpoint, since TRS would not be locked into any ongoing fees to the migration vendor.
“UNICON provided for cost-effective, extensive on-site training,” Cooper said, “Of course, their fixed-bid price for the entire conversion effort was much more in line with our budgeting constraints than those submitted by other vendors.”
TRS chose to move to Windows on a Dell PE2900 server with Microsoft SQL Server as its database. They selected Micro Focus’s ACUCOBOL as the target programming language, due to its flexibility, ease of use and lower cost. UNICON converted TRS’s entire COBOL and copylibs code set, including VPlus forms to the screen section of the target COBOL. IMAGE tables were converted to SQL Server tables and KSAM files were converted to Vision (the ISAM file structure of ACUCOBOL).
Stream/JCL files and UDC commands were converted to Windows .bat scripts and a small amount of SPL was converted COBOL. UNICON also provided TRS with COBOL equivalents for HP 3000 intrinsics and converted the IMAGE IO intrinsics to embedded SQL. TRS had also been using the Suprtool data extraction facility on the HP 3000 and UNICON provided a COBOL equivalent for the converted system.
“UNICON was able to simply take our existing system and application code and migrate to the selected products,” Cooper said. “Reaction across the board was very good.” He noted that some TRS systems had been running for as long as 20 years. Conversion to ACUCOBOL will help match IT staff experience with the system design.
“The current programmers are not experts in the HP 3000 and had some difficulty enhancing the systems and applications prior to conversion,” Cooper said. “However, while the COBOL will be relatively the same, working with the databases has already proven to be much easier.”
The new features and functionality offered by the new COBOL now allows TRS to begin leveraging true open systems, no longer bound by the proprietary restrictions imposed upon them by the HP 3000 environment. “UNICON’s project was performed professionally, thoroughly, on time and on budget,” Cooper said. “During and after the migration expert help was and still is provided as soon as it is requested.”
The IT manager added that he’s been in computer programming for over 40 years and “has been involved inabout a dozen conversions or migrations, and I’m pleased to say I have never seen a conversion as smooth as this one has been. I have never experienced such a high level of customer service as we have with UNICON.”