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AEGON is a leading insurance, pensions, mortgages, savings and investment provider. Established in 1983 as a result of numerous mergers, the company has 28,000 employees worldwide and operates in the United States, Europe, Canada and the Far East, making it one of the world's largest insurers. In 2009, its worldwide revenue was €29.8 billion. The nerve center of AEGON is a business application known as CAESAR. Written in COBOL and residing on an IBM mainframe, CAESAR controls the pension administration.
INFORMATION REQUESTS OUTPACED PROCEDURES TO PROVIDE ANSWERS
The pension application was built in the nineties against a DB2 database on the mainframe. Over time various web systems were added, and an increasing number of information requests were submitted and more items required formatting outside the mainframe.
Hans Wasmus, Systems Architect and Project Manager at AEGON, explains, "We could see an increasing demand for information outside the mainframe. We designed processes to make such data available. Whenever an information request was submitted, a bit of programming was carried out on the mainframe which would result in a file that could then be used elsewhere. This worked fine at first. But ten information requests turned into a hundred and eventually into hundreds. Since we could only update once a day - technically at night - not all information was available immediately for other systems. The procedure was no longer viable."
AEGON outsourced the infrastructure, paying per mainframe CPU cycle. The more cycles there were, the more expensive the whole process became. Making the same information available repeatedly became an increasing cost burden. Furthermore, communication between the COBOL and LAN/Java groups did not go smoothly, because they did not understand each other.
"At that point we decided to separate the administration and information provision functionalities. As a result, we can run faster analyses on information and offer more flexibility. After all, in administration failure is not an option, but if the information is available separately, it can be handled flexibly. CAESAR, as it happens, has been divided nicely into an interaction, application and data layer," says Wasmus.
MAKING THE DATA LAYER AVAILABLE ON THE LAN
This decision was the starting point for adjustments within the system. AEGON realized that making the CAESAR data layer available on the LAN would give users access to data that had already been tested from a system in which thousands of hours of programming had been invested. As Wasmus says, "Of course, you could replicate the database, but really we would like the COBOL systems to run on the replication as well, or we would still be doing everything twice." The replication capability of DB2 on COBOL is only to databases of the same type, but the database on the LAN was Oracle. Another issue was that the database on the mainframe works with an EBCDIC code table rather than ASCII on the LAN. This meant having to make two conversions. A pilot project identified Informatica as the best tool for the replication.
MIGRATION LEAVES APPLICATION'S CORE INTACT
Following a Proof of Concept, Micro Focus products proved the best solution for reusing the mainframe software on the LAN. The capability to convert changes to the LAN application with each new release of the administration system was important, or AEGON risked facing the same problem over again. CAESAR has approximately three new releases every year. As Wasmus explains, "In order to make sure that we never fall behind, both the replication mechanism and the software on the LAN need to be transferred."
Using Micro Focus products for the migration means that the application's core has been left intact, and new applications which offer more functionality can be created in half the time. As Hans Wasmus says, "During our initial research, it was already clear that the Micro Focus solutions were the best for replicating code. In this way we are modernizing our application landscape step by step."
The new platform uses Net Express and Server for SOA from Micro Focus. Before it was officially adopted the management processes had been thoroughly mapped out. More than half of all contain both a COBOL and a Java component. "This used to be a problem, but now we have bridged the gap," says Wasmus. "We previously created a calculation core in an application on the LAN which couldn't be used on the mainframe as the mainframe cannot access the calculation core. We were unable to unite the two forces. Either you haven't got the information to populate the calculation core, or you have no core to run the calculations. Now we can create an application that extracts the data from the replication and sends it to the calculation core, bringing the two together."
'FACTORY' SOLUTION SYNCHRONIZES LAN COBOL APPLICATIONS WITH THE MAINFRAME
AEGON created a solution that transfers COBOL from the mainframe to COBOL on the LAN. As Wasmus explains, "There are quite a few differences between mainframe and LAN, but we managed to build this little factory where you can feed the modified COBOL code in on one side and it is suitable for the LAN when it comes out on the other side. This means that the LAN COBOL applications are synchronized to the mainframe COBOL applications. Since the content of the code does not change, there is no need to go through the entire testing process again. Having tested the machine solution once, you can safely assume that it will work consistently. All you need to do then is run a regression test on all features."
"All these features are in fact standalone services," Wasmus continues. "Micro Focus enables you to make system features available as web services, so that you can easily integrate them with other technologies. Web services on the mainframe make up an area that has not yet been developed properly, but it provides hundreds of web services that we can link to Java applications.
The 'factory' approach makes it easy for AEGON to develop and integrate new software releases. "Since we have this so-called factory, it is easy for the developing partner to announce that they are going to regenerate certain codes," says Wasmus. "They only need two or three days to convert a release of the administration system. Besides, we no longer have to wait for a new release of the administration system before we can add something to the information platform. It can now be done in between releases as well: the data is available after all. It will just end up in the next release of the administration system. This provides a high level of flexibility."
Net Express by Micro Focus is the development environment. "When you translate this into Java terminology, it is similar to Eclipse," says Wasmus, who is used to thinking in both worlds. "And Server for SOA is the server that runs independently and makes the applications available."
ROI DELIVERED THROUGH COST SAVINGS, AND MORE...
The migration project has already delivered a return on investment through cost savings on the mainframe CPU cycles. But, according to Wasmus, "We provide many more additional benefits. The user organization had a number of requests which we could not act upon; now we can, because we can produce them at half price.
Previously, when you put in a request you had to wait for a day. If it was not right, you had to repeat the process and wait another day. Now we have a web application that delivers results in a matter of minutes. This means huge savings on the business side and soaring customer satisfaction levels."
Wasmus points to additional benefits of applications that end users have at their disposal today. "We can now deliver SLA reports to clients. Previously, whatever happened on the mainframe was invisible to the outside world. The client would send changes, but we could not demonstrate how they were used. Now, we can easily demonstrate that a client has submitted fifty change requests, for example, and that at some point we have processed thirty of them. Previously, this would have taken you a year and a half, so to speak.
The modernization strategy adopted by AEGON, and made possible with products from Micro Focus, enables the company to focus on providing web applications, chiefly because the interface is a lot more user-friendly. "Through the internet application we can now, for example, help an employer fill out a form. None of this was possible before," says Wasmus. "This approach not only significantly reduced our mainframe's running costs, but it also dramatically improved the supply of information."
Micro Focus continues to play a vital role in helping AEGON modernize its application landscape without sacrificing the significant investment in its business systems' intellectual property.