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Firm trades mainframes for Microsoft servers running SAP

Employees at Allentown, Penn.-based Air Products and Chemicals Inc. have been on a mission to eliminate their mainframes and scrap their tangled web of legacy applications.

Shortly before Air Products and Chemicals Inc. began migrating its legacy applications to SAP's business software suite in 2000, its 17,000 employees had to connect to several systems and applications to view the company's payables and receivables.

Seeing the need to streamline its complex mishmash of legacy applications hosted on multiple IBM OS/390 mainframes and more than 800 servers worldwide, Allentown, Penn.-based Air Products started by taking the least critical applications offline.

Air Products manufactures specialty gases that are used in chemical processes in the manufacturing and health care industries. The company has seen its business grow globally in recent years, prompting management to try to streamline and standardize its IT systems, said Terry Terfinko, senior manager of global IT and production at the Air Products data center.

"We had too many receivables, and too many payable systems, and managing all that got out of control," Terfinko said.

It continues to host some of its most critical applications on three IBM mainframes running OS/390, Terfinko said. IBM's DB2 database software is also used on two of the three mainframes, Terfinko said.

The company is moving away from its mainframe-centric data center, however, and has begun to shift some of the load onto Microsoft servers. When it chose the SAP R/3 business software suite, Air Products migrated nearly all its financial applications onto Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server and SQL Server.

The company also has plans to continue eliminating its 14 Unix systems that ran the company's proprietary software. The company set a goal of migrating old and new applications to Microsoft Windows rather than install additional Unix servers.

"We had more Unix in our environment than we have today and the decision to not develop in the Unix environment was based on the fact that we've become an SAP centric shop," Terfinko said.

As growth continued in the company, beginning in 2000, Air Products turned to an automated job scheduler to handle the skyrocketing jobs each month. In just four years, its number of monthly jobs increased from 75,000 to more than 400,000 per month.

A job scheduler is a program that enables an enterprise to schedule and, in some cases, monitor computer "batch" jobs, such as the running of a payroll program. A scheduler automates the function of processing all the events performed each day.

"With a job scheduler, we now have checks and balances in place," Terfinko said. "We're just gathering together the manual pieces and looking at what pieces can get automated."

Scheduling is important in the chemical industry, where it can have a major impact in the productivity of a process, said Mike Schiff, vice president of data warehousing and business intelligence at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis. Common in most mainframe environments, modern scheduling tools greatly outperform the manual scheduling methods commonly used decades ago, Schiff said.

"Some sorting utilities come with software, but if you're running 400,000 jobs a month, you want to make an investment in what is optimal," Schiff said.

While large tool vendors produce batch scheduling software, dozens of smaller best-of-breed vendors market scheduling products. Air Products chose UC4 because it was a cross platform tool and was a fairly new product, which seemed to perform better on Air Product systems, Terfinko said.

"We took a leap of faith because it was able to grow with our business and was cost effective," Terfinko said. "We're now using it as a global solution for all batch scheduling worldwide."

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