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TTX cuts costs with mainframe migration

With a migration off the mainframe, a freight car company makes major power bill and software licensing cost reductions.

Chicago-based freight car company TTX Co. is in the midst of migrating from the mainframe to distributed servers, saying the move will halve its total cost of ownership.

The savings comes largely from a reduced power bill and the ability to reduce staff, according to TTX's infrastructure director Rob Zelinka. It will also save large capital expenses on hardware and high software licensing costs. Zelinka estimates a 44% savings in the power bill, as well as about 50% savings on software licensing and 70% savings on server hardware.

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Three years ago, TTX decided it needed to rework a key application for tracking freight cars. The mainframe application wasn't providing the level of detail needed -- it reported only whether the cars were available or in for repair. The company considered rewriting the DB2 application on the mainframe, but after exploring possible savings through migration, changed course. Now the company runs the freight car tracking application on x86 hardware and SQL Server.

"With the SQL back end, we can not only tell what cars are in for repair, but we can also see if there's a specific part in a car that has a high rate of failure," Zelinka said. "That allows us to go out and proactively fix those parts. [When] there was no data to support that, that specific part was problematic for us."

Migrating from mainframe brings flexibility
Zelinka likes what he called the added flexibility of the distributed platform. If tomorrow TTX decides that SQL Server isn't doing the job it wants, it'll move over to Oracle without much trouble. Going from DB2 to Oracle on the mainframe, meanwhile, couldn't be done "without significant effort and pain and costs," Zelinka said.

TTX moved off the mainframe and onto Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ProLiant DL580 servers. The servers run VMware ESX 3.5 and have more than 120 virtual server images in production. Zelinka said that has made server provisioning much easier and much quicker. Provisioning a virtual server on the mainframe could take a couple days, but now it takes minutes.

Zelinka said the company initially planned on moving to IBM distributed servers, but he argued that HP's product design and support tools such as provisioning and systems management were superior.

The easiest part of migration was building the new infrastructure. The company now has what Zelinka called a "virtual server farm, which resonates with the mainframe computing model." More difficult for the staff was getting their arms around what they wanted to accomplish from a business standpoint. TTX Co. wanted the IT department to serve as a profit center, not a profit loss center. Cutting staff was also difficult.

"It's not a pleasant thing, but we have reduced head count here," he said. "We can now run a lights-out data center that will support the needs of the business without us physically being here."

The migration isn't complete yet. Over the next 18 months, TTX plans to migrate off IBM storage, most likely to EMC Corp. gear.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Mainframe blog.

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