Migration to client/server boosts Hong Kong Terminals

COMPANY: Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd.
PURPOSE: Replace an existing mainframe-based logistics system with a distributed client/server system.

APPLICATION: Productivity Plus Programme (3P) -- From her group's offices at Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd., Information Technology Manager Patty Wong can see a hyperactive world where people, as well as front-loading machines and top-lifting machines, are dwarfed by the great container ships they must quickly service. Wong sees ships and barges berthing, trucks motoring, and hundreds of gantries and cranes loading and unloading the ships that carry the goods of international commerce. Efficiency is crucial, and her IT department must see that it is achieved.

Over three years ago, Wong and her IT associates began a massive effort to re-engineer the Terminal Operations Systems Productivity Plus Programme (3P) that brings order to the possibly chaotic task of managing the shipping activity at one of the world's busiest ports. Today, Wong can claim a successful transformation from proprietary mainframe-based computing to a full-fledged distributed client/server paradigm.

Wong said the design is based on a three-tier model. Interface, application functions and database access reside in different layers. A secondary server can take the full system load when required. End-user connections are split across multiple concentrators, ensuring that failure of one does not impact all users in a single location or floor. A Tuxedo monitor assures automatic restart of application servers. Object-oriented techniques were used to define inter-applications service requests.

"We have a lot of volume and a small space," said Wong. In fact, tie-ups in materials handling at the Hong Kong terminal can radiate outwards and adversely effect the quality of living of the people in nearby areas. "The on-berth and off-berth activity have to be carefully aligned. Now we are very streamlined."


The Productivity Plus Programme (3P) project at the Hong Kong International Terminals Limited is awarded the honor in this category for demonstrating exceptional excellence on a very large client/server replacement project which committed 24% of its resources to testing, while experiencing changes which consumed almost 18% of the total effort. This project contained 14 separate development teams and was supported by a separate and dedicated test team which utilized over 24% of the total resource effort. The teams were also supported by a Project Office which implemented management disciplines, enabling a 'big bang' cutover to production of this mission critical system. The 3P system development represents successful and innovative achievements in overcoming risks with a project that was so strategic that it improved the municipal traffic flow around the busiest container terminal in the world. On several previous occasions under the legacy system, downtime in a computer outage would degrade loading/unloading operations and affect the relatively cramped road network with truck traffic waiting to move cargo. This innovative replacement system is fully redundant in terms of facilities, hardware, software, database, networks, and features automatic re-start of servers and cut-over to the back-up system.
The leaders of the so-called Productivity Plus Programme were particularly challenged to institute a full range of open systems components. A range of disparate systems was incorporated. These include an X.400 gateway, enabling shipping lines to access Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Information Exchange Systems, voice response systems, scanning technology for automated gate entry and exit functions, and paging networks.

Successful project management was a key to successful system implementation. A Project Office was instituted to provide standards and procedures for use across the entire project. Said Wong, "The biggest challenge was coordination of business processes, people and technology."

"We introduced quite a lot of new systems. Workflow [issues] had to be addressed. "In fact," she continued, "a major challenge was [to retrain] the people. We had to help them change from old system habit to new system practice."

As is so often the case, this experienced manager's advice to colleagues is to plan. The only thing that could have markedly improved this successful project, Wong said, was a lot more planning, especially in the area of preparing people to use the system.

In such a large-scale project, naturally, the list of software and hardware employed is extensive. Key to the project, said Wong, was big computer house Hewlett-Packard, which she described as a "vendor of choice."

Wong also cited Oracle database and BEA System Tuxedo transaction monitoring software as important. "Tuxedo has [gained advantage for us] by providing valuable load balancing of [data] traffic."

This especially complex task required specially built software, but, said Wong, Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd. is using SAP packaged software for finance and human-resources purposes.

How is success of a container terminal's operations measured? Peak quay crane rates have increased about 30%. Turn around time has been reduced from over 50 minutes to less than 40 minutes. Moreover, new records have been established for maximum number of containers loaded to a ship in one hour. A challenge now facing Wong and her crew is to repackage some part of the overall solution so that the Productivity Plus Programme can be applied to other, less sophisticated container terminals.

As anyone who has worked with sea captains can attest, their goal is to be at sea. In the case of Patty Wong and the port of Hong Kong, a client-server system migration has helped those captains to get aboard the briny foam more quickly, and to make some money for merchants at the same time.

- Jack Vaughan


Information Technology Manager Patty Wong led a team that ranged from 90 to 120 persons.

Quay crane rates increased; increased turn around time for tractors; new records established for maximum number of containers loaded to a ship in one hour.



Centura (Gupta)

HP 9000 series Unix servers with multiple CPUs

Dual Fibre link network, full FDDI network/HPUX 10.01

Oracle 7.01

Tuxedo 6.1 Open View


About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.