SmartDB targets legacy migration

Driven by the growth of client/server systems and the popularity of Internet and intranet environments, federal users are turning to specialized data migration products that automate the process of moving legacy data to new environments.

One such tool is SmartDB Workbench by SmartDB Corp., which provides shrink-wrapped templates that ease the process of moving data from legacy databases into Oracle Corp. relational database management systems (RDBMS) or Oracle applications. A new release later this year will expand that support.

"Every organization with a large amount of data will have a need for the technology at one time or another," said Bob Bessin, SmartDB's marketing director in Palo Alto, Calif. Many people use in-house-developed conversion and migration programs, Bessin said. In comparison, "we show an increase in productivity and the ability to maintain" interfaces, he said. The company's federal customers include the departments of Energy, Commerce and Defense.

Customers use the tool to map data from legacy flat-file data structures associated with mainframe and minicomputers to the Oracle relational database environment and to map data from one Oracle application to another. Customers fill out and customize templates, selecting from a set of conversion rules and adding others to fit their conversion and migration needs. The tool provides data mapping, transformation and validation, Bessin said.

The templates— which work with SmartDB Workbench 3.5, introduced in February— provide code custom-made for migrating data to Oracle's financial and manufacturing applications. However, users can still use SmartDB Workbench to move data into other Oracle-based applications, although more work is involved.

Using the company's pre-built templates aimed at Oracle applications, users can save up to 90 percent of the time required for manual conversion, the company estimates. Using SmartDB Workbench without the pre-built templates can save up to 70 percent of the time, the company said.

While the software currently is optimized to support migration to the Oracle RDBMS, the next release— Version 3.6, expected in midyear— will add support for Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server. The next release also will feature pre-built templates for PeopleSoft Inc. applications.

Growing Market

Data conversion and migration is a large and growing market, said Jeannie Fournier, a senior analyst with Aberdeen Group, Boston.

Sandia National Laboratories, for example, has turned to SmartDB Workbench and SmartDB Oracle database templates to ease the transition to new financial and manufacturing systems.

The production deadline for the manufacturing application is this October, and the deadline for the financial application is October 1999, said Duane Garrison, Sandia's project manager in Albuquerque, N.M. All told, Sandia is moving a portion of 100G of financial and procurement applications data from an IBM Corp. mainframe to a Unix environment running on Hewlett-Packard Co. platforms.

Using SmartDB's Workbench software and its Oracle templates to map data from legacy databases to Oracle applications, "we found...they got us 80 percent there without having to go to Oracle documentation," Garrison said. Some customization of the interfaces is required to accommodate "business rules unique only to Sandia," he said. But Garrison is happy with 80 percent automation, especially "when you consider that the alternative is zero."

The software is "a mapping tool" to help IS managers convert data from old to new data structures, Garrison explained. "The templates are where you apply the rules." Garrison estimated that he will save three to five full-time employees' worth of effort by automating data conversion and migration.

He recalled a manual data migration effort five years ago, when little data-movement automation software was available. Sandia had to write software to move a "home-grown financial system" from a hierarchical database on a Unisys Corp. mainframe to a relational database on an IBM mainframe; that process took three people one year.

"We had to write our own interfaces," which turned out to be a "pretty substantial effort," Garrison said. Added to that chore was the fact that "every time a specification changed, you'd have to revisit things."

Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

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