IBM i Modernization Relies On Solving Mysteries
December 1, 2014 Dan Burger
By boldly stepping into an IT modernization planning strategy, Royal Caribbean, one of the world’s largest cruise lines, is altering its 20-year-old applications and database development processes in preparation for the next 20 years of business goals. It is currently in the second phase of a program designed to migrate selected, monolithic, RPG applications to Java-based Web services that will continue to run on IBM Power servers and the IBM i operating system.
The current project focus is a strategic modernization of the company’s custom-designed reservation system that includes accounting, inventory, revenue management, and sales. The objectives include the creation of a systems inventory that analyzes programs and data, and then abstracting that information into logical components and data models. During that process, the IT project team expects to establish a framework for making decisions about modernization approaches and service exposures.
Consider this a roadmap. As it moves toward completion, it will be used to launch projects that carve into the existing monolithic code and modernize it. Although the IT department perspective is emphasized, this project is guided by a strategic business plan that includes a framework for IT tactical decision making.
“The reservation system is a critical component of our homegrown system built on IBM i technology, which is part of a larger modernization system,” says Royal Caribbean’s Jose Machado, vice president of IT. “We have done the basic analysis and are coming up with what should be done with code to create a services oriented approach.”
The original reservation application is huge. It includes more than 7 million lines of code that during the course of two decades has been modified, manipulated, and maintained a multitude of times using several flavors of RPG from legacy to modern. The reservation system has always run on IBM midrange servers from AS/400s to modern Power Systems iron.
“We are interested in defining services components that to a great extent will be independent of one another, but that can be leveraged in a reusable way to provide business functionality,” Machado explains. “That’s the first goal. The second is to move from RPG to Java.”
It is not one giant leap, however. Some of the newly created services will be built using RPG as part of the first phase and migrated to Java later. Parts of the code will remain as-is because, Machado realizes, little or no benefit can be gained by conversion of every line of code.
Ryan Smith is an IBM modernization specialist who is consulting on this project. He emphasizes the system-analyzing steps in the modernization process and advises that before digging into the extraction of business rules from the legacy code, a decision-making framework needs to be in place. Without it, Smith says, the setting of priorities and actions is like firing shots in the dark.
Discovering what you have in your system and in your applications sounds easy, but for most companies it is not. Creating an inventory is like unraveling a bowl of spaghetti and sorting all the noodles into groups based on length, color, and flexibility. As anyone who’s looked at millions of line of code knows, Monolithic apps hold many mysteries. Solving the mysteries is work that can be done by hand, but it is immensely labor intensive.
To automate this process, Royal Caribbean purchased a tool called X-Analysis from Fresche Legacy. It was used to define the system inventory, which is sometimes referred to as the “as is” state, Smith explained.
X-Analysis generates reports that describe the physical architecture in terms of objects, programs, and physical and logical files. In addition, it identifies the relationships between the data schema objects. This process, when done manually, is often a labor-intensive and time-consuming search and rescue procedure. The X-Analysis tool is designed for cross-referencing, documentation, re-engineering, and code generation.
“This is very valuable in understanding how to carve up the existing monolithic and procedural system into a services model,” Smith acknowledged. “Understanding relationships leads to making the right decisions.”
Fresche Legacy consultants initially were used to demonstrate the code discovery capabilities of X-Analysis, but Machado says Royal Caribbean IT staff members are learning to use the tool and it will have continued uses in the current and future modernization efforts.
Each phase of the Royal Caribbean project begins by breaking down an application into modules, submodules, and ultimately to business functions. The goal of the process is to match programs and data to business functions.
Examining business rules, extraction, consolidation, and exporting capabilities is the first step–the mapping phase–that leads to larger modernization programs. It allows business rules to be classified, consolidated and applied to modules of the application, or it can also do the same mapping to the database.
Realizing that database modernization is closely tied to application modernization has organizations thinking about strategic frameworks as opposed to tactical projects that are often rushed deployments without regard for an overall business strategy. It is not unusual for companies to seek productivity gains in individual areas that lack integration and lead to the same type of interoperability issues that are visible today.
The depth and breadth of technology is so great that many organizations struggle to grasp the full potential. As a result, we see a short-sightedness in the modernization process. The capabilities can be leveraged for more than companies originally have in mind.
Determining where you are before you can determine where you want to go sounds obvious, but rarely are organizations clear about their IT systems inventory, capability, and potential. A more precise understanding of the relationship between the application and the data tiers is one of the biggest benefits being realized in this project.
In the early going of this modernization project, Smith handled the mapping with input from Fresche Legacy and the Royal Caribbean teams that knew the existing applications from years of experience.
“We had our trainers on site who could see how to leverage it. And they set up training with the teams that were familiar with the core application running on IBM i. The productivity gains–just for maintenance purposes–were considerable,” says Jennifer Fisher, vice president of sales and marketing at Fresche Legacy.