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  • 9 June 2004 16:04

Rehousing applications reduces annual costs by 50 per cent for West Australian public housing agency

Moving mainframe applications to a new home has cut application hosting costs in half for WA’s Department of Housing and Works. Fujitsu’s specialist skills also helped boost performance and pave the way for a flexible internet architecture.

Like many government agencies, Western Australia’s Department of Housing and Works (DHW) was a contented mainframe user for decades. Over time, however, budgetary pressures and inflexibility began making the venerable platform increasingly difficult to justify.

DHW manages all the WA Government’s housing functions, including public rental accommodation, financial assistance for housing for low-income families, rural homes, Aboriginal housing and housing for government employees (GEHA). A purpose-built mainframe application called CareTaker covers about 95 per cent of the business requirements involved in managing a portfolio comprising 45,000 properties and approximately 100,000 customers.

“All government departments face pressure to reduce their costs,” says DHW Information Services Manager Gavin Bagley. “The Department reviewed its IS spending and identified migration from the mainframe to midrange systems as a potential source of savings. We saw a chance to cut both application support costs and the expense of maintaining the platform. From an IS manager’s perspective, we also saw an opportunity to increase flexibility while ensuring performance was equal or better.”

Portable ObjectStar framework makes migration easy

CareTaker was developed in the mid-1990s using ObjectStar, a Fujitsu programming framework that makes it easy for customers to change the underlying platform without the enormous overheads of redeveloping applications. “The original decision to use ObjectStar showed a lot of foresight, because it meant that moving off the mainframe was very cost-effective when we eventually wanted it,” Mr Bagley says.

DHW is a geographically dispersed organisation, with 30 offices located in Perth and major cities and towns, including Albany, Broome, Bunbury, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Northam. Staff access CareTaker through a graphical Visual Basic client application. Remote offices access the application using Citrix MetaFrame software.

In December 2002, the Department called for tenders to manage the transition, then provide outsourced support for the new server environment. DHW selected Perth-based systems integrator ASG Group to handle the deployment and operation of the replacement platform, a Sun Fire 4800 Server running Solaris.

DHW was already using Fujitsu to provide application and technical support CareTaker on the mainframe, and it called on Fujitsu’s specialised migration skills and ObjectStar expertise during the changeover.

“Fujitsu was an integral part of the transition process,” Mr Bagley says. “The team brought a wealth of experience in successful mainframe migrations. Fujitsu’s expertise helped us build a proof-of-concept system to thoroughly test the proposed Sun environment. That was a critical step in demonstrating that the new server would work well and performance would be adequate.”

Application performance boosted by up to 50 per cent

Fujitsu’s team of ObjectStar specialists provided technical support and advice for the IS team at DHW and worked with ASG to ensure the smooth transition of hardware and software infrastructure.

“The advantage of the ObjectStar technology base was that minimal changes were required to port the applications from the mainframe to the Sun environment. Not needing to redevelop the core applications was a significant benefit for DHW, and Fujitsu’s experience in legacy migration made the whole process run smoothly,” says Mr Bagley.

One area that did require change was batch file processing, which is handled quite differently under the OS/390 and Solaris operating systems. Fujitsu consultants helped convert the JCL-based mainframe batch schedulers into Unix scripts for the Sun platform. Beyond this, the core focus of Fujitsu’s work was performance tuning.

“We all knew the ObjectStar application would work under Unix, so it was principally a matter of fine-tuning to optimise performance,” Mr Bagley explains. Fujitsu’s technical skills delivered stunning results: without changing the Department’s client software setup, CareTaker performance was up to 50 per cent faster on the new platform.

Just as important were the cost savings. Mr Bagley estimates that DHW reduced the annual cost of operating the CareTaker application by half as a result of moving to the Sun environment. Coupled with the low cost of migrating with ObjectStar, Mr Bagley says the Department regards the project as an unqualified success.

“To achieve the same level of reliability we had on the mainframe while boosting performance by up to 50 per cent and cutting costs in half – you couldn’t ask for a better outcome,” he says.

“The migration also laid a foundation for future IS initiatives. We’re looking for further cost savings by considering possibilities such as consolidating several ancillary business applications on the Sun server. In the long run we’d like to move to browser-based computing to further reduce support costs. Fujitsu’s help ensured the migration was a very successful project.”

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