Success Story  

Client: United States Postal Services
Project: Migration of WANG COBOL to MicoFocus COBOL with Oracle Access

"We're planning to migrate the query and reporting functions of the application onto Oracle WebServer, which represents about 80 percent of the application's functionality. We experienced an exponential increase in both user and developer productivity."

Delinda Fitzgerald

Information Systems Coordinator at the U.S. Postal Service National Center for Employee Development in Norman, Oklahoma

Out-Maneuvering Obsolescence

The threat of outmoded and unsupported technology is especially troublesome for organizations that continue to depend on Wang hardware to run business-critical applications. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) National Center for Employee Development(NCED) found itself facing just this predicament. Responsible for training USPS maintenance employees on the equipment used to sort and distribute mail nationwide, the NCED needed to get its core applications off of the Wang hardware as soon as possible, with little or no interference with current operations. The NCED's options were to re-engineer its online Automated Enrollment System (AES), or to convert to a new hardware and software system.

The choice between re-engineering and converting was not too difficult. Once the NCED calculated the cost and time associated with re-engineering its business rules, specification documentation, and development, testing, and training processes, and determined it lacked the necessary staff resource allocation, its only real option was conversion. However, there was another hurdle to overcome: the NCED intended to migrate to an Oracle platform, but all of its applications were written in Wang COBOL. The NCED, therefore, had to find conversion tools and direction that could help accomplish the USPS's objectives. "Our biggest challenge was migrating a legacy, mainframe-based system onto an open-systems platform," explains Delinda Fitgerald, Information Systems Coordinator at the USPS NCED in Norman, Oklahoma.

To meet its performance objectives, the NCED needed to keep up with increasing system activity; migrate off the Wang immediately; and improve response times, programming efficiency and reliability - without interrupting operations. So the NCED turned to American Cybernetic Corporation, an Oracle Business alliance Partner that specializes in the conversion of WANG COBOL and PACE applications.

A Growing and Critical Application

The NCED developed the Automated Enrollment System (AES), a training administration application, in 1986. Since the application's inception, its end-user population has grown from 85 to 2,500 in over 500 postal facilities nationwide. The NCED has an average of 700 students enrolled at the Norman facility each week, attending classes that range from one day to six weeks long. However, the AES now supports an average of 2,500 weekly enrollments, That includes the NCED's resident, field, and distance-learning courses; plus national management training. The application written in Wang COBOL and comprises approximately 700,000 lines of source code, and 56 data files - several with more than 100,000 records. The system had at least 200 concurrent users, with a peak of about 1,250 - and its range was growing.

"We needed to match the legacy system's ability to support over 2,000 concurrent users," Fitgerald explains. "The UNIX operating system was chosen because of its proven multitasking operability. We selected Oracle because it could support a national application of this size, and because of its compatibility with so many other database development tools, CASE tools, and Web services." The NCED selected American Cybernetic Corporation (ACC) because the company offers a comprehensive set of tools and services to convert or re-engineer existing Wang-VS COBOL to MicroFocus COBOL with Oracle access and WANG PACE applications to Oracle Forms on any open platform, including the conversion of the production to Oracle tables. What was most impressive to the NCED was that ACC's conversion methodology used only native code without embedding WANG like code in the converted system, as is done with emulated conversions; the NCED knew that such emulation techniques would cause considerable maintenance and response problems. In addition to the strong ACC references, ACC has a superior Website design and development team who had considerable interactive database experience and specialized tools (also used for subsequent development at the NCED.)

The target system was a Sun SPARC/20 dual 75MHz running Solaris 8.x. It was the NCED's intent to convert the application to the target system with all of the functionality of the Wang system, thus making the conversion as transparent as possible to the users. In order to accomplish this, the American Cybernetic team converted the COBOL programs to the target system, converted the data files to Oracle tables, and maintained the same basic functionality. Also, the NCED's staff had to install all software and hardware components. The return-on-investment calculation dictated that all of this be accomplished within four months! "With the excellent support of American Cybernetic, we achieved our goal," says Fitgerald.

A Giant Step Forward

Thus far, American Cybernetic's tools (Transporter) and conversion services have enabled the NCED to utilize Oracle to support application tables, with original Wang front-end still in place. "This portion of the application is supported with Micro-Focus COBOL with SQL calls to the Oracle tables," Fitzgerald says.

The next phase of the conversion project includes migrating the query and reporting functions of the application onto Oracle Web Server for eventual deployment across the U.S. Postal Service's intranet. "This will represent approximately 80 percent of the application's functionality, and will deliver the greatest impact on productivity," Fitgerald says. "Because the Web services are developed using CASE tools, we expect an exponential increase in both user and developer productivity." (Subsequently, ACC web-enabled the application.)

All at the Click of a Button

The change in software and applications contributing to this improvement, however, should be transparent to AES's end users. "Our end users can access AES only via the Postal Service's Wide Area Network," Fitgerald says. "If all works as planned, I don't expect they'll need to be made aware that they're now using an Oracle product."