Mainframe Migration Saves Dollars and Lives

By Michael D. Falkow Print this article Print

A California city remakes is emergency response system.

A reliable and effective emergency response system is a necessity for any city, no matter its size, location or crime rate. For a city such as Inglewood, Calif., which receives more than 250 emergency calls for service every day, anything but the fastest, most dependable emergency response system was out of the question.

Inglewood was faced with a daunting challenge. An aging mainframe posed a huge risk to mission-critical emergency response functions, and the city needed a cost-effective solution—and fast. In addition, the platform required nearly $120,000 a year in maintenance costs.

The city was under pressure to upgrade its hardware and operating system, and we quickly recognized that it made the most financial sense to reduce reliance on the mainframe. This put in motion a series of projects that began moving current applications onto other platforms.

For many of our software applications, the easiest option was to purchase commercial off-the-shelf packages. While some required lengthier solutions than this, over the course of a four-year program, we were able to successfully move all but one of our existing applications off the mainframe.

The final remaining application, however, was the most mission-critical, as it provided support for the city’s 911 emergency dispatch call center.

With Inglewood receiving more 911 service calls than all of its neighbors combined, a smoothly operating computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was of the utmost importance for the safety of the community and its citizenry. When a 911 call is received at one of Inglewood’s eight emergency control center desks, its details are transmitted instantly to mobile data computers (MDCs) in the 40 police vehicles that patrol the city’s streets.

Our CAD system must run 24/7, and data has to be transmitted as soon as the emergency call is taken for immediate service dispatch. With lives depending on the availability of critical information, downtime is unacceptable.

Although the city’s mainframe was reliable and accurate, its age was making it increasingly difficult to obtain replacement parts when components failed, meaning that the CAD system faced the potential risk of catastrophic failure should any component break down. Inglewood couldn’t justify upgrading the entire mainframe to address the need of just one application, but accepting that the dispatch system could flatline was simply not an option.

We investigated a range of possibilities to overcome this challenge. Buying a commercially packaged solution was a $2 million investment that meant compromising on functionality. Plus, it virtually guaranteed the loss of many years of intelligence that had been built into the customized mainframe-based CAD system.

As an alternative, we attempted a more cost-effective project to convert the 500,000+ lines of COBOL code to Windows, but this created problems. After a year-and-a-half of development, implementing a simple operating system software update caused the code on the server to fail, resulting in an emergency fix that took almost eight hours to complete. This option posed far too great a risk, and we were forced to abandon this approach.

At that point, we decided to migrate the application in its entirety to the Micro Focus Server Enterprise Edition on Windows Server. This solution ensured that the CAD system was running on a completely modernized platform that didn’t introduce failure or downtime risks.

Our 150 mips mainframe application now runs on two Windows servers, one for production and one for development. Ongoing development is minimal and is done directly against the development Windows server running Micro Focus Studio Enterprise Edition via remote desktop.

The production environment for the application is a Windows Server running Micro Focus Server Enterprise Edition. Approximately 50 terminals connect to the production server, along with in-car console displays and emergency control center desks.

Inglewood now benefits from a robust and resilient CAD system that runs on a far more cost-effective platform and continues to deliver the functionality that is so important to the city’s emergency response services. As a result of moving off a costly and dated mainframe, the city is now saving more than $120,000 each year in maintenance and support fees, while preserving our CAD system’s 99.99 percent fault resilience.

Protecting the safety of our residents is the most critical aspect of my job. The city’s efforts to protect its population with the most advanced CAD technology available has delivered meaningful and measurable results that benefit the citizens of Inglewood on a daily basis.

Michael D. Falkow, PMP, is assistant city manager/CIO and deputy director of emergency services for Inglewood, Calif.  

This article was originally published on 2012-02-15
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