Making sure legacy-Web links are in sync
Because mainframe and other legacy systems have proven reliable and robust
over the years, no one is in a rush to get rid of them. Instead, organizations
are dressing up old green screens with pretty user interfaces to create Web-friendly
access to legacy information. With access to legacy systems through the Web
becoming vital to large corporations, testing the links between legacy and newer
systems is becoming more important as well.
"Given the increasing complexity of computing environments, there is a
general need to be able to test further into an application and an enterprise,"
noted Kathy Quirk, senior analyst at Hurwitz Group, Framingham, Mass.
Companies are concerned with how new systems, which include links to legacy
systems, will perform, and for good reason. Internet users are disloyal. If
they come to a site that is too slow or unresponsive, they leave it and find
a faster one. So, "clients need to know whether their end users are going
to experience slow response times or even crashes when the load on their applications
increase," said Joe Fernandes, product manager for e-Test suite at Empirix,
"The availability of a Web-friendly interface improves accessibility to
these legacy apps, which may lead to higher usage," added Fernandes. "This
puts more stress on the application architecture, which increases the need to
test performance before deployment."
Testing used to come at the end of a development cycle, if at all; today, developers
cannot wait that long to test an app's performance and scalability or the links
between legacy and newer systems.
Stephen Burkholder, CEO at Work Smarter Systems, a Regina, Saskatchewan, consulting
company, believes more links will appear between legacy and Web user-friendly
systems. "Since the user interface layer is then Web-enabled in addition
to, or possibly instead of, traditional text user interfaces," he said,
"testing the additional functionality is a crucial step in the Web-enablement
What's a company to do?
Fortunately, most testing tools vendors provide a way to test the links between
legacy and newer systems. Mercury Interactive, Sunnyvale, Calif., offers ways
to test them with its LoadRunner tool. Work Smarter Systems' Burkholder uses
Mercury's WinRunner and LoadRunner to test links. He uses WinRunner for automation
and functional testing, including regression testing, of very large systems.
LoadRunner, on the other hand, plays a role in functional testing of systems
under load. Burkholder said, "load test is really a functional test at
Load testing has risen in importance and complexity as the Internet has taken
hold. "This is significant in today's Web access world where the potential
users of a system currently number [the world's population]," he explained.
"No longer is the system load at full production known or even, in some
There are two approaches to testing the links between legacy and Web-friendly
systems, according to Burkholder. One is to replace a user interface with a
Web interface, in which case all the functional testing (and load testing for
that matter) has to go through that one interface from then on in the life of
that system. The second is to supplement an old green screen, in which case
the functional test results from the green screen must match the test results
from a Web-enabled front end.
According to Hurwitz Group, companies are using tools that manage and automate
the full testing life cycle. Compuware, Farmington Hills, Mich., is one vendor
that focuses on the entire development life cycle. "We're taking productivity
and automation tools from the planning and development phases into automated
software quality and production deployment," said Rebecca Lockhart, product
That is one reason the Detroit Medical Center (DMC), a $2 billion multi-hospital,
multi-clinic healthcare organization comprising seven hospitals and 120 clinics
in Southeast Michigan, chose Compuware's QACenter to test its links between
legacy and newer systems. "We have a lot of different applications and
want to be able to use a common product suite to attack those," noted Mike
Haggerson, DMC's director, clinical information systems.
The organization utilizes Cerner Millennium as its core clinical information
system. Cerner Millennium is to the healthcare industry what PeopleSoft is to
the financial industry, "a 'big dog' app," according to Haggerson.
With 120 interfaces into Cerner Millennium at press time, DMC relies heavily
on integration testing. Add to that the organization's 6,000 users and 150 sites,
and the significance of successful integration testing escalates.
DMC uses Compuware's QARun as a screen-capture application, which has features
that autogenerate data. The product allows DMC to conduct application testing,
integration testing and volume testing. DMC also uses QALoad for volume testing
its clinical information system. QALoad can mimic user load against a database
"Patient demographic data is the unique key to accessing all data in the
healthcare industry," Haggerson said. Because of that, DMC uses QAHiperstation,
Compuware's mainframe solution, to test patient demographic data like last name,
first name and social security number.
The organization also uses Compuware's File-AID in its testing process. "Between
QAHiperstation and File-AID, integrating information between the two is helpful,"
Haggerson said. One reason for that is all of the apps within QACenter sit on
a common data store, "so there's some tight coupling between Compuware
products," he added.
When Morningstar Inc., a Chicago global investment research firm, began migrating
FoxPro databases to SQL Server, it chose WebLoad from RadView Software, Burlington,
Mass. The firm found WebLoad invaluable when it identified problems in databases
and app servers after QA testing had not detected them. "In each of those
cases," explained David Bambrough, operation systems programmer, "we
were able to find the [problem] with WebLoad before the app launched. That would
have brought down the whole system [otherwise]."
The firm used WebLoad to simulate customer activity on a Web site. It then
compared performance between apps before and after migration. Now the company
uses WebLoad to test new apps it puts on its Web site, as well as modifications
to existing apps.
"We started with one Web site for individual investors and went through
the launch of four new sites with WebLoad," Bambrough said. Using the product,
the firm tests a Web site from the start of development to the components it
builds on the site.
After considering Empirix's e-Test suite, Mercury's Astra LoadTest and a Web
app stress tool from Microsoft, Morningstar selected WebLoad for its value.
"It is one of the cheapest load testing tools on the market, yet it offers
the same functionality as the other tools," Bambrough said. "In some
cases, I found it to outperform the other tools, even though it's cheaper."
Bambrough also found WebLoad's accuracy to be "as good as or better than
any other tool I've looked at, and more efficient as well. It's able to simulate
more clients per workstation than any of the other tools I've tested. On top
of producing a load," he added, "it's also able to integrate some
functional testing to make sure pages returning are correct."
One thing Bambrough would change about WebLoad, if he could, is to open up
its database structure so he could export data to a SQL database or have some
sort of access to it without going through WebLoad. Currently, test results
are stored in a closed database structure and cannot be accessed without going
through the product. "In most cases, that's not a problem," Bambrough
said, "but in some cases, [an open database structure] would have been
very helpful and we would have been able to move forward."
Big Chalk, a Berwyn, Pa., provider of educational Internet services, has also
found testing critical as it migrates from older to newer systems. "As
we start migrating from older systems to newer ones, we have to make sure, functionally,
that they're identical," explained Steve Cisick, infrastructure director.
Big Chalk uses Empirix's e-Test suite for functional, load and performance testing
and likes its ease of use. The suite is "effective to record the scripts
and play them back," said Lynn Paul, QA manager. She also found the suite
effective in diagnosing scalability issues.
One firm that does not provide a tool to test the links between legacy and
newer systems is Rational Software, Cupertino, Calif. In fact, according to
firm spokesperson Brian Bryson, Rational customers have already been checking
data access using existing Rational tools. Testing links is done on a case-by-case
basis, typically using Rational Robot to test from the front end and compare
it to the back end through a programming language.
To outsource or not
Other testing tools vendors have offerings for testing the links between legacy
and Web-friendly systems. While some are not specifically designed for this,
they are capable of doing it. As technology continues to change, however, the
testing process becomes more complex. "The complication is due to a variety
of technical elements and the complex technical architectures companies now
have," Hurwitz Group's Quirk explained. Shorter production cycles, coupled
with the need to accomplish much in a limited amount of time with fewer people,
only add to the mix.
This complexity is giving way to a new phenomenon, hosted testing, in which
a company turns to a vendor to handle a portion of its testing. Many organizations
are taking advantage of these hosted services, especially for load testing,
noted Theresa Lanowitz, research director of the Application Development Group
in the San Jose, Calif., office of market research firm Gartner Inc.
"The majority of enterprises may not have the technical ability or resources
to have a separate test environment that closely mimics their environment,"
Lanowitz explained. A hosted service provides both skilled professionals and
an environment created specifically for the purpose of conducting performance
Hurwitz Group's Quirk noted that companies tend not to turn all their testing
over to a hosted service to retain some control. "They like to have balance
there," she said. "They like to have someone helping them out and
stepping them through it. Once they're more knowledgeable, they can repeat it
on their own. They're looking for guidance."
Compuware offers professional services in this area. Another example is Mercury's
Application Risk Management Model (ARMM) initiative, a set of best practices
and guidelines to help organizations meet the challenges of deploying high-quality
apps when faced with changing technologies, shorter development cycles and higher
expectations for service. The model provides a framework for assessing current
quality practices and implementing processes to move forward.
Testing, once considered a luxury development add-on, has become a necessity.
Vendors and analysts have observed that testing has moved upstream in the development
process. The reasons are obvious. Without a solid Web-friendly app, businesses
go by the wayside. In today's Internet world, firms cannot afford to lose customers,
suppliers or loyalty.
How can a corporation ensure its vitality? Gartner's Lanowitz suggests four
necessary ingredients for thorough testing. "If you have a combination
of skilled professionals, good processes and procedures, a good methodology,
and good tools and services, everything should go smoothly," she said.
See the related article "Reliable
legacy-extended apps a reality."