One firm's story: The mainframe goes, but Cobol stays behind

Owens & Minor moves Cobol-based ERP system to x86 server, Windows machines

By , Computerworld |  Software, cobol

The Owens & Minor approach to modernize the ERP system allowed it to reduce spending on hardware. Although the Owens & Minor isn't disclosing exact figures, the cost of operating the new x86 system including migration cost was less than half of the cost of operating its 700 MIPS (millions instructions per second) mainframe.

The argument of whether to use mainframe and distributed environments is longstanding among IT shops, where there are strong opinions on each side.

Bank of America, for instance, is so committed to the mainframe that the company works with IBM to ensure that colleges and universities produce sufficient numbers of graduates with the skills needed to run and use them.

IBM mainframe revenue had been consistently rising until last year when it declined nearly 29%. But that result wasn't unexpected in bad economic times. In fact, 2009 worldwide server revenue for systems by all makers declined by almost 19% to $43.2 billion, according to IDC. In addition, IBM is releasing a new System z computer this year, and its mainframe revenue typically declines prior to the release of a new one.

IBM accounted for about 33% of overall server revenue worldwide last year.

Owens & Minor has so far moved the ERP software to two Hewlett-Packard HP ProLiant DL785 servers each with eight quad core AMD Opteron chips rated by HP at 3,200 MIPS. One server is for failover. The system was brought into production late last year.

Mears said that recent improvements in the x86 hardware platform helped with the decision to port the ERP system there. The new servers are 50% larger than the hardware Owens & Minor originally evaluated three years ago, while the cost remained about the same.

Owens & Minor worked with a number of vendors on the project, including the Dell Perot Health Care Systems Group and Micro Focus Ltd., to move the code to Windows Server 2008, which has built-in Unix emulator. New user interfaces were and are being developed, included a composite that combines business functions, such as customer support, the various processes employees need to access.

The change for users was dramatic.

For instance, previously the firm's 400-plus customer service representatives had to access at least four different systems -- the order management system, which had information about the customer and order; the warehouse management system; the product management system that stores all information about the products; and the accounts receivable system -- to resolve an issue. Each of the systems had its own separate screens and business logic. Now, the information is brought together in a GUI instead of a green screen, increasing processing speeds and improving order accuracy.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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