ista International

Proof of Concept for ista more efficiency for IT: Migration of legacy system

Turn old into new – or: 100 percent automized from COBOL to Java. PASS demonstrates in a Proof of Concept for ista that this is possible. 

ista is one of the world's leading service providers for energy efficiency in buildings. The company with headquarters in Essen supports customers in 24 countries in measuring, visualizing, billing and managing their energy and water consumption. The goal is to save costs and make consumption transparent and controllable.

“With an eye on IT, efficiency as well as process and operational reliability is the key requirement. In order to map our business processes flexibly, we need powerful systems – but in practice legacy systems sometimes slow us down.”

Andre Schmidt

Project Manager, ista International

Costs down – flexibility up

With rising lifespan IT legacy systems become an increasing burden - even if they still work perfectly. This also applies to ista's own COBOL-based central accounting system ABRE. "To ensure the future viability of the core component, we want to replace the host-based components of the ABRE application with a modern Java and Web architecture," says Schmidt. ista focuses on three strategic considerations in particular:

1. Protection of investment
While COBOL once enjoyed great popularity, modern programming languages such as Java have now replaced languages from the 1960s. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit developers with COBOL expertise. Thanks to the broad availability of Java know-how, ista expects a better starting position in the future.

2. Reduction of operating costs
By switching to the open source platform Linux, the costs of operation are expected to be significantly reduced.

3. Increasing flexibility
Business processes are constantly changing and so are systems. However, due to their high degree of complexity, legacy systems quickly reach their limits. Through a modern Java/Web architecture ista hopes for easier maintenance and further development.

Automated migration

Since no standard software is available for the specific requirements of the core processes and a new development would be very time and effort consuming, ista considered further approaches - including an automated migration from ABRE to a JAVA version (jABRE). "After weighing up the effort, risk and costs, PASS impressed us with its Migration Factory and we commissioned a proof of concept", says Schmidt. The special feature of the migration approach is in its automation: The developers don't touch the code themselves, but build robots that analyze and transform the code. Compared to manual migration, this leads both to significantly higher productivity and improved maintainability. In addition, the high degree of automation ensures that the migration process can be repeated as often as required - i.e. continuous development can take place and longer code-freeze phases are no longer necessary.

The Proof of Concept

In addition to the realization of an automated migration, the goal of the Proof of Concept was to verify the fulfillment of quality requirements with regard to readability, maintainability and performance using the following architectural components:

To prove the feasibility of automated migration, PASS started with a three-week quick check. Basic questions (e.g. third-party components, target architecture and test infrastructure) were clarified and initial conclusions were gained from the review of the sources. In the following Proof of Concept, a representative extract of the central batch accounting process and the care of master and transaction data in the online area were used as test cases: The prototype proved that the individual source types (migration paths) can be raised fully automatically to the new architecture and target language. The resulting source code is functional, maintainable and readable, and also fits the performance expectations. The Proof of Concept has been successfully completed in all aspects.