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Case Study: ASNA Monarch

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Industrial Steel Treating (IST) discovers that updating an information infrastructure doesn't mean sacrificing value.

 

As technology changes, a company's management often needs a way to refresh the information infrastructure without sacrificing the value of their applications. Industrial Steel Treating Company (IST) in Jackson, Michigan, found that the most productive path to modernizing IST's custom-built IBM i production application was to migrate it to Microsoft .NET. It chose ASNA Monarch to perform the application migration, and the results couldn't be better.

 

By completing the migration with ASNA Monarch, IST increased the usability of the application with a modern, browser-based graphical user interface (GUI); added new functionality unavailable with native RPG; and reduced costs by moving from an IBM i server to Microsoft Windows Server.

The Anatomy of a Decision: Rewrite or Migrate?

IST's custom-built Shop Floor application had already had a long and successful track record before the ASNA Monarch migration. Originally written in RPG II back in the late 1980s for the IBM System/36, the application evolved significantly over time to meet IST's unique business requirements. So when the management team started looking at modernizing the application, the goal was to get the full functionality of IST legacy RPG code duplicated in a modern.NET environment. That's why they chose to migrate using ASNA Monarch.

 

To understand the complexity of the IST decision process, you need to know something of the value of their IST Shop Floor system.

Strengthening Steel Through Treatment

Steel emerges from the commercial mill with specific metallurgical qualities of hardness, ductility, and tensile strength. But in order to meet the requirements of modern parts manufacturing, these qualities may need to be altered through a variety of annealing and tempering processes. These technical metallurgical requirements are scientifically exacting. And to be industry certified, the processes must be thoroughly documented.

A Highly Evolved Information System

The IST Shop Floor system maintains all the necessary information for scheduling, tracking, and monitoring orders through the IST advanced steel treatment operation. Every IST order is entered into the Shop Floor system, and the status of each order is updated as the customer's materials are moved through the scheduled production stages. Orders are identified with bar code tickets, and employees sign on as each process is started and sign off as each process is completed. Data-logging from the primary processing equipment is fed directly into the Shop Floor application, including temperatures, atmosphere control, process times, and quench temperatures. These measurements and status points can be readily recalled for every production lot and viewable at each production station. It's critical documentation of the processes of steel treatment that IST needs for maintaining IST quality and certification. Finally, when the order is completed, acknowledgement messages are emailed to the customer, and Advanced Ship Notice via EDI (ASN/EDI) information is automatically sent to designated recipients.

 

IST's system is incredibly intricate and very detailed: It enables IST to track and monitor everything from entire production orders to unique prototypes or individual samples. In fact, the scope and durability of the Shop Floor application has made it integral to the success of IST. It's one of the key automation elements that has helped the organization expand to be one of the most modern heat treat facilities currently in operation in the U.S. In other words, IST's Shop Floor information system is crucial to maintaining the company's competitive edge.

Past Migrations

IST needed an upgrade path for its application that would deliver the maximum functionality with the least disruption to IST's overall operation. The IST team determined the best way to do that was by migrating the app to another platform. So for IST, the migration issue was not "Should we migrate?" but "What is the best long-term option for IST?" Should they re-write the code to C#, or should they seek some means of moving the RPG code itself to Windows? For IST, the critical tradeoff was "How much would a rewrite cost versus how much functionality might be lost in the process?"

 

There were four tactical elements that IST needed to address:

 

  • RPG—The underlying source code was written in the IBM RPG language.
  • DB2/400—The database was in the IBM DB2/400 format.
  • No Downtime—The Shop Floor system could not be disrupted. It was a critical application running 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • Training—Employees, who were accustomed to the old-style 5250 green-screen terminals with fixed function keyboards, would need to be retrained to use a modern GUI on a Web browser.

 

When IST considered all of these elements it decided to build IST migration strategy around ASNA Monarch and ASNA Visual RPG.

What Is ASNA Monarch?

ASNA Monarch is an application suite that was specifically designed to migrate IBM i RPG applications to Microsoft .NET. It transforms ILE RPG, RPG/400, and CL into either Microsoft C# or ASNA Visual RPG.

 

What is ASNA Visual RPG (AVR), and why did IST choose it?

 

AVR is a modern implementation of the familiar RPG syntax. It's easily learned by RPG programmers because it bears a striking resemblance to IBM RPG. Source code in AVR is maintained and/or enhanced using the MS Visual Studio.NET IDE. In IST's migration, they chose AVR as the target source language because it was easy for IST RPG programmers to transition their skills. But ASNA Monarch can also migrate IBM RPG and CL to the Microsoft's C# source language.

Building the Migration Game Plan

IST began the migration process using ASNA's proven Monarch methodology. After an application is chosen for migration, Monarch copies the associated pieces of the application into a separate .NET application called the ASNA Monarch Cocoon. Monarch Cocoon provides the migration console for Monarch.

 

Monarch Cocoon quickly analyzes the specified libraries of source code, program objects, data areas, etc. to discover program dependencies and develop an analysis for migration planning. The information the Cocoon provides includes:

 

  • Program call graph—Spots program object dependencies on other OS/400 program objects
  • Cross-referenced object usage—Identifies what programs use what objects
  • Host RPG source view—Takes a quick look at the underlying host source code
  • Density factors—Provides the metrics on the "migrate-ability" of any given program
  • Notes display—Records notes (a "diary" area) about each object discovered

 

Using the information the Monarch Cocoon provides, IST developed IST's own optimal game plan for migration, selecting the application subsystems and files that were to be automatically migrated to AVR and identifying modules where re-writing directly in .NET might be a better solution. In Monarch parlance, a "game plan" is effectively a migration unit. It's used to specify the migration "chunks" of an application.

ASNA Migration Support

In the planning stages, it became clear there was a key technical resource limitation. The IST Shop Floor application had been running for more than 20 years. It consisted of thousands of lines of code, with nested modules calling more nested modules, and with hundreds of different code styles from different programmers.

 

When IST looked at the analysis performed by the Monarch Cocoon, it became obvious that the scope of the migration was beyond the available time of IST's lone IT employee. That's where ASNA support filled the bill.

 

ASNA's Services Team members are experts with the IBM i and Microsoft .NET platforms. They have helped hundreds of companies successfully bridge the gap between the IBM i and .NET. So when IST addressed the migration timeline problem directly with ASNA's Services Team, ASNA stepped up to the challenge.

 

According to Jeff Thomas, IST's Information Systems Manager, "We provided ASNA with current RPG code and data files; they migrated and did minimal testing. Then we took it and tested and trained and went live."

RPG to AVR

Each selected element was added to the Monarch game plan's task list and tracked as it was transformed into AVR or .NET modules. Monarch provides proprietary "migration agents" that systematically convert each important part of the program or application. This includes Menus, CL, Display Files, Printer Files, Message Files, and Data Areas. Monarch even implements the program message queue. As each task is completed, IST status is updated in the Cocoon, providing an ongoing measurement of how much is left to be accomplished.

 

When the entire source libraries of the Shop Floor application were ready, the actual migration code compilation process was activated, quickly turning the aging Shop Floor RPG application into a new, modern .NET application.

Database Migration: DB2/400 to MS SQL

Converting source code was an important first goal accomplished by ASNA Monarch. But IST also needed to get existing Shop Floor data from the IBM i DB2/400 database to the Microsoft SQL Server database on the Windows server. That's where ASNA's experience in IBM i migration was instrumental.

 

ASNA Monarch uses a unique technology called ASNA DataGate. ASNA DataGate provides the database transport with record-level database access for the IBM i and MS SQL Server platforms. In non-ASNA migration scenarios, a normal "roll-out" of a database conversion requires halting the production system and then converting and copying the data to Microsoft SQL Server. However, the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week nature of the IST Shop Floor operation required that both the MS SQL and DB2/400 database be kept in synchronization until the final migration was completed.

 

Fortunately, the cross-platform capability of ASNA DataGate allows easy re-targeting of an application to either IBM DB2/400 or MS SQL without making major application changes. This powerful capability enabled the IST Shop Floor migration to maintain both database systems until the final cutoff was completed. The results? There was no need for application downtime while the migration process was being accomplished.

Retraining Users to .NET

The final piece of the Monarch migration game plan was to retrain employees—some of whom who had been using fixed-function terminals since the Shop Floor application was first introduced in the late 1980s—to the newer .NET browser interface.

 

According to Jeff Thomas, "The biggest challenge we had was training the older employees to use a browser as well as a mouse to navigate the system. Everything else was a breeze."

 

But one of the advantages of the Monarch migration is the excellent emulation of green-screen functions, in addition to the tight control and customization capabilities of the interface. All function keys are translated transparently from the traditional IBM 5250 datastream to the MS.NET Active Server Pages. And, with the staged steps of the Monarch game plan—along with the ability to keep the IBM i and Windows MS SQL databases in sync—IST could methodically train its workforce while still sustaining the 24X7 work schedule of the facility.

Final Migration Benefits

So how did the IST's migration with ASNA Monarch go?

 

According to Jeff Thomas, the entire migration process, from start to finish, took approximately four months to complete. This included planning for the migration, building the ASNA Cocoon, automatically analyzing the RPG and CL code, creating a game plan for the migration, converting the source code to AVR, implementing the DataGate, running the actual conversion, testing the resulting application, and retraining a workforce of about 40 employees to the .NET browser interface.

 

And the benefits?

 

Jeff Thomas says, "We have been able to improve our production capabilities by providing tailored processing instructions and including images of items being processed. And employees have embraced the new browser-based version of the system."

 

During the testing process, Jeff Thomas also began adding new features to the .NET display using Microsoft .NET modules that enhanced the application beyond the migration.

 

In the meantime, Jeff Thomas estimates that moving off the IBM i will save the company $10,000 to $15,000 a year, while at the same time offering the company new opportunities to continue evolving the Shop Floor system with new features.

 

So how would IST rate ASNA's Monarch and ASNA's service?

 

"We have been a long-time customer of ASNA," says Jeff Thomas. "The support they provide is awesome!"

About ASNA

ASNA provides comprehensive and flexible solutions for modernizing IBM i applications to the Microsoft .NET platform. ASNA enables companies to integrate and extend their solutions to .NET, the Web, and beyond while preserving investments in IT and human resources. ASNA solutions are distributed worldwide and used by more than a million end users.

 

ASNA is a gold level partner of Microsoft's Partner Network, a Microsoft Visual Studio Industry Partner, and an Advanced Tier Member of IBM's PartnerWorld for Developers. ASNA is also a gold level partner of Microsoft's Platform Modernization Alliance.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.