IP Australia sticks with big iron

Two years after announcing it will migrate off the mainframe in favour of mid-range Unix systems, national patent and trademark administrator IP Australia will now keep its big iron for at least another five years.

IP Australia had planned to move off the mainframe by June next year as it was only using 30 MIPS and could not justify the perceived transaction cost, according to CIO Paul Ayers.

Ayers said IP Australia has invested a lot into its mid-range environment with the promise of reduced complexity and TCO, but when it was implemented there were "maturity issues" and the TCO ended up being higher than anticipated.

"As it stands at the moment, our mainframe is more cost-effective than the mid-range environment, but I think it's only a matter of time before our mid-range will have a lower TCO," Ayers said. "Our processes have been around in the mainframe for many years and are not as mature in mid-range."

IP Australia's mid-range infrastructure consists mainly of Sun Solaris machines running J2EE-based applications and the business case for re-writing the remaining mainframe based applications from Adabas Natural on an IBM zSeries wasn't there.

"The trouble with Java is there are 10 ways to do anything which increases the maintenance overhead and the complexity of the environment is a magnitude more than the mainframe," Ayers said.

More recently, IP Australia's focus has moved away from the mainframe to its e-commerce, B2B transaction system, and better searching capabilities. Its Java client application is becoming more "problematic" to support and may be redeveloped as an Ajax Web application in the future.

IP Australia is part of the "Cluster 3" group of federal government departments, including the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Australian Electoral Commission, the first all-of-government approach to outsourcing which ends in June 2007.

Ayers said while all three departments have a good relationship, IP Australia will be going it alone with its renewed mainframe contract because it has different requirements. "We are expecting to save a bit of money and we don't need the high-end, mission-critical requirements of a DIMA or the AEC," he said.

This move is also in line with the modern, select-sourcing model of the government. "We did weigh up the options around bringing it in-house again and also the costs associated with any redevelopment," Ayers said, adding one environment and skill-set sounds good but in the end the numbers did not stack up.

"We're after a service which can effectively host our mainframe-based business systems and are open to a service on-demand model. Our Trademark system is an important component of our business so we expect someone with the experience of running a set of business-critical applications to host this."

Having spoken to Software AG and other end users in Canberra, IP Australia is "banking" on the availability of Adabas skills if the mainframe is used until at least 2012. Adabas does run on open systems, but Ayers said it is still "costly" to switch platforms.

Even with an extended mainframe contract, IP Australia is unlikely to add any new workloads onto the big iron as it heads squarely down the SOA path. "When there is a business requirement to change we are doing it in SOA," Ayers said, adding there is no business case for change on the mainframe at this stage.

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