Rumors Say Farm Bureau to Dump AS/400s for Windows Boxes
March 12, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Two months ago, I told you that the Farm Services Agency, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had put out a request for proposal out to get some help upgrading its 2,384 vintage AS/400 Model 170 class servers and their S/36-style applications to better serve the 8,000 agricultural counties in the United States serve the farmers in those counties. The machines, which provide the farm subsidy checks, credit, and other financial services stipulated by Congress, have been showing their age. But according to a report last week in Computerworld, the situation may be more dire than anyone guessed from the request for information (RFI) document the FSA put out late last year.
According to the report, the RPG, COBOL, and assembler applications that the FSA uses have been unstable since late last year, and Mike Johanns, secretary of the USDA, has asked for the process to be speeded up and for a proposal to be on his desk by March 19. If the Computerworld report is true, the FSA has as many problems with network bandwidth as it did with server throughput.
One rumor I have heard from an ISV located in the Washington, D.C., area has it that the FSA has all but decided to boot out the AS/400s and consolidate onto Windows servers. How this would be accomplished quickly considering the fact that RPG, COBOL, and assembler for the System/36 Virtual Machine (not the S/36 Emulation Environment) have not been supported since OS/400 V4R4, and most certainly are not part of the .NET environment, moving the FSA to a Web-enabled application set from where it is today is not going to be an easy or quick task. Still, it is clearly easier for the FSA to work with IBM and some intrepid tool providers in the i5/OS space to modernize those applications on a consolidated set of System i5 servers.
IBM and the ISVs should be bending over backwards to fix this problem for the FSA, using it as a showcase to prove that Big Blue is serious about keeping its installed base and moving it up to modern i5 boxes and i5/OS software. Losing this account to Windows servers, as the rumor suggests is likely to happen, would be very embarrassing.
It is hard to say if this is a good omen or bad one, but the FSA has removed the RFI from its Web site. But the GovCG.com site still has it archived here if you want to see the details. The setup the FSA has is pretty tricky, and the file formats it uses in its applications for each of those county offices make it difficult to consolidate.
U.S. official orders review of USDA payment system, Computerworld