Computable: Legacy systems are a business risk

March 7, 2016

Swedish Transport Agency says farewell to Unisys mainframe after forty years

Computable NL – Rik Sanders


For over forty years the Swedish Transport Agency (STA) used a Unisys OS2200 mainframe for the administration of the road traffic. By the end of this year, Fujitsu and Asysco will have migrated this legacy platform to an open .NET environment. The case of STA does not stand alone: ​​the legacy problem will only worsen in the coming years.

Swedish Transport Agency (STA) is the government agency in Sweden that oversees transportation, both on the road, rail, sea and in the air. For over forty years the Unisys OS2200 mainframe developed from the former Sperry Univac,
is the heart of the administration.

Besides that this VRT system for traffic records must be available for the 1650 employees of the agency itself, about forty thousand remote users, such as car dealers, police officers and employees of rail, air and ferry organizations, are also working with it on a daily basis. Annually, the system processes five hundred million transactions and a hundred million decisions.

“However, the configuration of these Unisys-environment is no longer future-proof,” said STA project manager Marcus Frejd during his presentation at a user meeting of legacy migration specialist Asysco in London last fall. STA already knew this for a while but since the system was still running well and the replacement of such a core system is a complex matter, they postponed the issue. The problem became urgent when around 2010Unisys announced the end of maintenance for the OS2200 and its development EAE (Enterprise Application Environment, emerged from Unisys Linc) at the end of 2015.

Modern platform

Initially, STA chose to move to Agile Business Suite (AB Suite), the modern Unisys platform. But that environment was found to be still unstable. After Unisys decided to still continue the maintenance of the OS 2200 for another few years, STA had more time to investigate other options. However, they could not take too long. The user community of the OS2000 mainframe is getting smaller and smaller. Spare parts are rare. Should a hardware failure occur, there was a fair chance that the business-critical system could fail.

Aware of the fact that starting 2017 there would no longer be a guarantee for a well-functioning system, the agency issued a call for tenders in 2014. According to project leader Frejd it was not an option to rewrite the software code. Transferring legacy code to a new, modern platform seemed the best way forward.

Legacy Issue

This was right up the alley of Dutch software company Asysco. This migration specialist from Coevorden provides migrations of legacy Cobol environments to an open Windows .Net environment on a stable, future proof platform. In its approach, the company chooses to maintain the business logic of this kind of business-critical legacy and transfers the lines of Cobol 1: 1 to a modern .NET environment. After the migration, customers have the option to continue programming in COBOL, or to switch to Visual Basic, .Net and C #.

Bernd Sakulski, sales director EMEA at Asysco, estimates that worldwide still around a thousand customers work with Unisys mainframe systems. There are also many IBM mainframe legacy environments. However, he stresses that the problem is not so much about the hardware – the iron – but mainly about the soft side: the vanishing of Cobol skills. “Mainframe Migrations are mostly Cobol migrations. There is less and less knowledge of Cobol. The specialists retire. Therefore the cost of keeping Cobol applications running is high and the risk that problems cannot be solved, is too high.

Sakulski indicates that the legacy problem will only get bigger in the coming years. Now they mainly talk about IBM and Unisys mainframes but it also raises issues around older Unix and Windows platforms. “Even standard packages age, think of for example Oracle ERP systems. Fortunately, customers are increasingly aware of the problem of complex legacy code and search for open platforms in order to reduce the risk to their business. ”

Lack of documentation

Five automation companies including Capgemini and Microsoft responded to STA’s call for tenders. An interesting detail is that all five of them proposed to use the Asysco migration software platform as the modernization solution. Ultimately, STA made the choice for Fujitsu.
In March 2015 Fujitsu, together with Asysco, signed a contract with STA to migrate their Unisys legacy environment to a Windows / C # environment.

The VRT system consists of 3.5 million lines of Cobol code. Before giving a green light for the project, STA required a Proof of Concept. In the POC, Fujitsu and Asysco had to migrate four percent of the total lines of code to a cloud environment. The POC was successful but at the same time made it clear to STA that there was some work to do for the agency. For example, in the area of testing. “The Unisys system was not documented enough”, stated project Frejd during his presentation at Asysco. “It turned out that there was code without ‘owner’, which makes it difficult to predict how the code will react to the migration.” Because the migration testing process is automated as much as possible additional attention tot his matter was required. There was also a role for a Swedish auditing company, selected by STA to perform quality tests. In addition, a special team was set up to address unexpected events. Last but not least, during the migration, the system also had to be adapted to new EU legislation.

An important lesson Frejd and (ICT) colleagues have learned at STA is that in fact they knew too little about their Unisys platform. Despite the fact that there are 230 ICT specialists (of which twenty-five mainframe specialists) walking around at STA, that knowledge has not been documented sufficiently over the last forty years. On October 22, 2016, the migration of the Unisys platform to an open .NET environment should be completed. Frejd has confidence they will succeed but nevertheless compares this journey with the performance of an open heart transplantation to a runner during a marathon.

For already forty years there’s a Unisys OS2200 mainframe at the Swedish Transport Agency (STA), which is being used for the administration of road traffic. By the end of this year, Fujitsu and Asysco will have migrated this legacy platform to an open .NET environment. The case ‘STA’ does not stand alone: ​​the legacy problem will only worsen in the coming years.

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