French project manager puts in a word for legacy translation

Totally rewriting legacy logic for Web-enabled applications is risky business, says Gorge Altanirano, project manager for Antargaz, a French supplier of bottled gas for rural home owners and farmers in France.

Altanirano, speaking to eADT via phone from France, also has the experience to back up his views. Two years ago, he was given the task of building an order-taking system for the call center that services Antargaz customers. All the business logic for the order processing resided in legacy applications running on IBM AS/400 platforms.

As Altanirano saw it initially, he had two choices. He could rewrite the legacy apps in pure Java for the BEA WebLogic platform, which was used in the call center. Or he could split the difference and put the order-taking application on WebLogic while leaving processing and verification to the legacy apps.

In his view, both approaches had pitfalls. Rewriting in Java would take time and require lengthy testing. Splitting the business logic between two platforms would be a maintenance headache, since anything changed on one system would require testing and perhaps programming work on the other.

These were not scenarios he felt comfortable with considering the ordering system is not only mission critical to Antargaz's business but vital to its rural customers, especially farmers, who rely on gas deliveries for home heating, cooking, and warming greenhouses and barns. During the peak winter season, the center handles up to 10,000 customer calls per day.

In the end, he found a third way: using legacy transformation technology from NetManage to link the Java front end to the back-office system. Altanirano says this had several advantages, not the least of which was that the AS/400 system had been reliably processing orders for years. Also, the NetManage OnWeb server he deployed could translate the entries the customer service representatives put into the Java front end into the exact keystrokes the legacy application required.

So, if the back-office application signaled that the order was complete, the customer representative could assure the customer the order had been placed in the system.

"You're 100% sure that if the AS400 accepted the order, it was a valid order," Altanirano says through a translator.

Rather than doing extensive Java programming, the Antargaz development team used a scripting language to translate between the new front end and the legacy back-office system.

"You have a very low cost of implementation," Altanirano says. "That's where you really win, where you get your return on investment. If you had to build or rebuild a transaction system on the host, either on the AS/400 or in WebLogic in pure Java, that would have been a lot more time consuming."

The call-center system is working so well that the Antargaz project manager is now planning to deploy it as a mobile computing application in the firm's delivery trucks.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.


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