For some companies, making the decision to migrate off the mainframe is tough, but not for Meritz Financial Information Services. Even though the company added capacity frequently, at peak times it still encountered application slowdown. So Meritz took the plunge and dumped big iron for Itanium-based Hewlett-Packard Co. Superdome.
But the process of migrating off the mainframe onto Superdomes was hardly easy. Meritz had several hurdles to overcome, including doing an inventory of all its mainframe data, choosing an application migration strategy, and grappling with less-than-perfect documentation.
Meritz is the fifth largest nonlife insurer in South Korea, and had been running a z990 model 2084 with 1,600 MIPS (or million of instructions per second), a fairly small mainframe configuration. Merit'z problems began during the early 1990s; to keep pace with growth, the company added 50% more processing power every two years. Even so, at the end of the month, Meritz reached 100% CPU utilization during peak times, and as CEO Sun Cho put it, "system performance was seriously degraded" when there were more than 50 concurrent users on the system.
"We were concerned about the level of service," he said. "That was the main business driver to look for something else."
Migrating from mainframe to Itanium
About a year ago, Meritz migrated from the mainframe and has seen improvements in online transaction processing (OLTP) and batch processing. Further, it estimates that over the course of five years, it will save $12 million to $16 million. Cho said the company derived savings from reduced hardware and software maintenance fees and the lower cost of hardware upgrades.
When Meritz decided to migrate from the mainframe, it invited hardware vendors to pitch their wares. HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc./Fujitsu made the case for their respective Unix platforms – HP-UX on Itanium, AIX on Power, and Solaris on Sparc, respectively – and in late 2006, Meritz performed benchmarking tests.
Meritz created a business scenario for the three vendors, providing data and applications that each vendor could load onto its respective system. Cho said the scenario focused on OLTP and batch processing, which are crucial to the business, as well as user response times.
The HP Superdome came out on top, according to Cho, although he wouldn't share the exact results of the benchmarking. Specifically, Meritz ended up eliminating the mainframe and buying six HP Superdomes, four for production and two for backup. The total configuration has 112 Itanium processing cores and 240 GB of memory, which is approximately twice as much capacity as Meritz had with the mainframe.
With the platform decision made, Maritz next had to decide how to migrate its mainframe applications. The company considered rewriting all its applications for the new platform but chose not to for time and cost reasons. Instead it found mainframe emulation software from TmaxSoft called OpenFrame that enabled it to keep the same COBOL logic running on top of HP servers. No application change was necessary, and though the emulation software does have some overhead, Cho said performance is still better now than it was on the mainframe.
Still, Meritz had to get its DB2 data into Oracle and ultimately did so with the Oracle Database Gateway for DRDA. It allowed automation of a large volume of DB2 mainframe data for an Oracle database environment.
Mainframe migration hiccups
According to Cho, Meritz has more than 25,000 homegrown programs and about 3 TB of data on its mainframe – 1.5 TB each on disk and tape. That was a lot of applications and files to sort through.
"What to convert and what not to convert: That decision took time," Cho said. "We needed business people involved to get their approval, and it was time-consuming in the beginning. Once the migration began, it was important to have a complete inventory of the programs, data and documentation so we knew exactly what we were dealing with."
And as in many businesses, efforts at maintaining good documentation weren't always diligent. Because Meritz had used mainframes for decades, documentation had become "really loose," according to Cho. That made collecting an inventory of all data and applications a tedious task.
Staffing, on the other hand, wasn't as challenging as it might have been for another mainframe shop. Meritz outsources mainframe operations and management, and so when it decided to migrate off the platform, it didn't have to retrain operators. As for its mainframe programmers, thanks to the emulator software, Meritz also had no concerns. p>
"They're coding COBOL programs just like they used to, so it's no different to them," Cho said.
More on the horizon
In early 2007, the mainframe migration kicked off and was largely finished in December of the same year, achieving its main goals of improving OLTP and batch performance and reducing costs.
According to Cho, Meritz has experienced a 35% improvement in batch processing, and on the OLTP front -- where the mainframe could accommodate only 50 concurrent users -- the Superdome can support 250 and still only have 40% CPU utilization with no application degradation. Over the next six months, the company anticipates reaching break-even and, over the next five years, saving up to $16 million.
But Meritz isn't done. Next up is rewriting some of those COBOL programs for HP-UX and Itanium. Even though migrating off the mainframe provided performance benefits, the ability to get applications off the mainframe emulation software and running natively on Itanium will boost results further.