Taking the plunge: What it takes to leave a legacy platform behind
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Jun 16, 2016
Florida's Miami-Dade County Information Technology Department faced a tough choice. One of its middleware stacks had reached end of life, and officials could either upgrade or get rid of it and convert the forms and reports applications on it to two other stacks. On the surface, Option A looked like the easy choice. But Miami-Dade went with Option B -- and saved money.
The county tapped legacy IT modernization firm Morphis to help with the conversions as it did away with its Oracle Application Server (OAS), which the company had stopped supporting in 2011. To modernize, Miami-Dade would have had to upgrade to Oracle WebLogic, but that suite offers functions the department didn't need.
"We'd have to have the servers and all the resources to support this application just for this small piece," county Database Manager Sue Camner said. "It didn't seem to be cost effective to go that route."
Because the department has two other middleware stacks – IBM's WebSphere for Java-based apps and Microsoft's IIS for .NET applications -- officials decided to convert the Oracle Forms and Reports code to work on one of those stacks. The move would save the county money by removing a stack and all its related maintenance.
"Once all of the applications are out of OAS, we can get rid of that whole infrastructure -- the servers and the storage, the licensing, everything involved in that stack -- and just migrate everything to one of the other two," Camner said.
In some cases, the county bought licenses for Morphis' Kuscos analyzer and Transformer conversion tools to partly convert the applications. "Then we take it from there and complete the conversion with their framework," she explained. In other cases, the county hired Morphis to do the full conversion.
"We can analyze the existing application, see what's in there, see how it works, figure it all out, and then decide on the best way to modernize that," said Neil Hartley, U.S. head of operations at Morphis. Morphis also migrated the county's database from Oracle to an SQL server.
Camner and her team first identify the programs they want to convert. Then they run Kuscos against the Oracle Forms application, and it pulls out the information needed for the conversion, she said.
"One of two things happens at that point," Camner said. "We take the results of that converter tool -- it converts about 60 percent of the applications for us -- and from there, we have to do the rest." Otherwise, Morphis finishes the conversion and delivers the source code and the executable, depending on whether it's .NET or Java, to the county. "We test it and there's some back-and-forth with quality assurance and validation," she said. "Once that's resolved, it goes to production."
The impact fee system at two county divisions -- Solid Waste Management and the Public Works Department -- was the first to be converted to Java in 2013. By Sept. 30, all 60 applications that had been on OAS will be converted, retired or merged into something else, Camner said. Morphis is converting about 30 of them. So far, it's completed 13 and has nine in progress.
Decreased costs and improved security are the main benefits that Miami-Dade can expect to see from this modernization, Hartley said. Because OAS ran on Microsoft Windows 2003 servers and required Internet Explorer 8, the lack of support for the technology put the county at risk.
"They're now in a position where the technology is way tighter, so they're able to protect whatever data they have in their systems much better," he said.
County workers who use the applications shouldn't notice much of a difference. Although the interface might change slightly, the functions won't, Camner said. Morphis is trying to make the new programs "look as much like the old application … so that users aren't lost," she said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.