Alberta WCB gets T-Rex behind it

The Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board is backing up a dinosaur of an application with a T-Rex.

The T-Rex, also known as IBM’s eServer z990, is now being used by the Alberta WCB to handle its Electronic Claims Organization

(ECO) application, which is comprised partially of legacy program elements.

The WCB was using an older generation eServer, the z900, but decided to upgrade to the T-Rex to take advantage of its added processing power. IBM pegs the z990 as three times as powerful as its predecessor.

The ECO application is handled by 10 Intel Xeon servers running Windows 2000, which talk to the z990 mainframe through an IBM DB2 database.

The z990 was released in May, and the WCB is actually the first Canadian organization to use it. “”What we found is a lot of the workload we have is processor speed sensitive and we found we had much better performance with the faster processors,”” said the WCB’s application hosting manager Murray Mitchell. “”I had the option, of course, of staying with the z900 with double the number of processors. We find historically that our workload is very responsive to fewer, faster engines.””

Mitchell said that it was a relatively fast upgrade for the WCB; the machine was delivered on a Wednesday and in production the following Monday. He also said that the WCB has opted to maintain at least some of its legacy operations rather than redevelop them for the simple reason that they still work.

“”It’s very difficult to take older applications and rewrite them in a newer language in a lot of cases,”” said Jamie Gruener, analyst with The Yankee Group in Boston. “”A lot of customers have made years and decades of investments in these applications and they want to continue to have (them) available. I think the z-series is especially good for that model because it certainly has a broader platform from that level.””

Giving legacy applications a boost is IBM’s secondary mainframe market, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata, based in Nashua, N.H. The primary market, he said, is supporting more current technology like Linux and Web-based applications.

“”The mainframe market really isn’t a big growth market for IBM, but it’s something that has stayed quite constant,”” he said. “”Over time, I think it’s inevitable that a lot of the mainframe-type capabilities will increasingly move to more modern and less expensive, less exotic hardware, but it’s going to be very slow movement.””

Gruener agreed that the mainframe market is in decline, especially as customers look to distributed environments. “”But certainly there is a stable customer base. Customers need this kind of performance and this kind of system. I think that there will be a market for some time to come.””

More than 1,500 employees have access to ECO. Mitchell estimates that as many as 700 people are using it at any given time.

The WCB is starting to roll out some self-service applications for its customers, but it’s not a priority right now, said Mitchell. “”There are too many privacy issues involved with medical records,”” he explained. “”We have to be very careful we don’t compromise our customers’ confidentiality.””

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