PBS upgrades Unisys mainframe

The General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service slowly is moving into the '90s with a transition from its 20-year-old Sperry-Unisys Corp. mainframe architecture to a newer Unisys A Series mainframe used for other GSA applications.

A spokesman for Unisys Federal Systems, which will assist PBS personnel in the conversion, said the move from GSA's batch processing Infonet environment to the newer system will save about $1 million each month in maintenance charges. The move also will provide PBS with its first on-line transaction processing capability, give users a Windows-based graphical user interface and solve the organization's Year 2000 problem.

Joseph Santamaria, vice president and general manager for information technology at Unisys Federal Systems, said the transition will take advantage of hardware already installed at GSA and will entail software development services worth about $14 million. He said the services were purchased from his company's $338 million GSA Systems contract, awarded in 1992.

Santamaria said the move will transfer PBS data to a Unisys A11-1222 centralized mainframe installed at PBS headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 11 A7-411 "servers" at each of GSA's regional locations. He said it will also make PBS data more accessible to users by "refacing applications."

"We took the applications from the old [text-oriented] look and designed new ones that have Windows-type graphics," Santamaria said.

Times Change

Steven Mead, chief information officer at PBS, said the old Infonet applications run on a time-sharing system that has served as the organization's data processing architecture since the mid-1970s. The PBS staff has spent five to 10 years developing applications for Infonet, he said. "We were quite comfortable with that in the early days," Mead said. But Infonet code, written in the obscure DML language, became difficult to maintain, and programmers familiar with it became scarce. When a planned effort to redesign the organization's applications failed, officials realized it would be difficult to integrate the old code with new systems coming on-line, Mead said. The system suffered an increasing number of breakdowns as it aged, he said.

Consequently, PBS called on Unisys to help migrate nine applications for functions such as assigning space to agencies and building security and maintenance. Unisys also will convert PBS' database on 8,000 government buildings managed by the agency, the Unisys spokesman said.

Solution for 2000

The transition is occurring at a time when PBS officials have been grappling with the question of how to prepare their systems for 2000. Mead said those issues will be handled during the transition from Infonet, even though that was not a stated objective of the initiative.

"As a side benefit, while we are converting all of this code, we will fix the Year 2000 problem as we go along," he said. "That puts us in excellent shape for the future."

Mead said the conversion, scheduled for completion in December, will run simultaneously with another initiative to re-engineer the PBS applications.

Abandoning the Mainframe

Next year, the agency will go a step further and begin to abandon the mainframe architecture altogether, he said.

"Our long-term solution will largely be distributed," Mead said. "As our business and my office identify and put up re-engineered applications, the overwhelming majority would be server-based."

Santamaria said he expects the proj-ect to be completed two months ahead of schedule. "Early on, we got together with GSA and made a serious commitment to undertake this in 18 months," he said. "We'll probably be done before that. Most software development projects normally run behind schedule. But because of the way our team and GSA's have been working on this, we'll probably be done 60 days early."

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