Schwan dumps Cobol apps for .Net

U.S. food supplier dumps green-screen terminals, saves US$1m

Schwan Food, a privately held firm that's the fifth-largest food supplier in the U.S., said this week that it has completed a project to move from a mainframe-based system running Cobol applications to a Microsoft .Net environment.

The migration was overseen by Kate McNulty, CIO at Marshall, Minn.-based Schwan. When the project began, Schwan was supporting two platforms, a mainframe Hitachi running IBM OS/390 and a number of x86 systems supporting the company's SAP ERP systems.

The mainframe system in particular was old and needed updating. Users were still interacting with it via green-screen terminals, McNulty said.

Having a foot in each world -- mainframe and Windows -- wasn't giving Schwan the flexibility or ability to adapt IT to its business needs, which is why in 2004 it began moving about 30 Cobol-based applications and rewriting for a .Net environment, said McNulty.

The decision to support the business with Windows Servers was eased by the experience Schwan had running its ERP systems on x86 platforms. "We had already been running SAP on Windows for 10 years before we decided to move the mainframe over there. If you can run your ERP on there. ... I think our confidence was very high" that the migration would be successful, McNulty said. Schwan picked Unisys ES7000 servers.

Although the migration was actually completed last spring, it wasn't announced until Monday by IT services provider Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., which completed the integration and migration work and continues to provide application development support. The Schwan rewrote 31 of its mainframe-based applications for the move.

McNulty said Schwan expects to save about US$1 million in annual operational costs. The company also cut its code base by about 85 percent, she said.

Schwan declined to disclose the project cost.

Among the things that made the effort successful, said McNulty, was business backing for the changes required by the system migration, which included adapting to new interfaces and reporting processes.

When it comes to a decision about using mainframes, said IDC analyst Steve Josselyn, users aren't following any particular path. Some companies are moving away from them, while other are moving to them.

Migration decisions often depend on the culture in a company and its skill sets, said Josselyn, adding that there is no certainty of savings from moving to Windows. He noted that the cost of managing a Windows environment can sometimes turn out to be higher than expected.

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