Legacy code decommissioned

The Air Force is embarking on a project to transform millions of lines of

outdated — though still widely used — mainframe software code into a much

more flexible Java-based system that is accessible via the Internet.

To handle most of the heavy lifting in the massive conversion project,

the Air Force is using a new software tool that analyzes the older legacy

code and then rebuilds the application using a modern programming architecture

instead of simply rewriting the original application in a new language.

The technology, developed by Relativity Technologies and called RescueWare,

is being implemented first on the Air Force's Standard Base Supply System,

an inventory, accounting and order management system that controls the service's

flow of supplies from the warehouse to deployment.

The Standard Base Supply System uses 1.8 million lines of code written

in Cobol and running on mainframes. Once converted to Java and ported to

a Unix-based system, the new software will give about 7,000 Air Force personnel

stationed at more than 90 Air Force bases in the United States direct access

to the system via the Internet.

If successful, the conversion technology could be adopted elsewhere

in the Air Force, the rest of the military and the federal government, according

to Air Force and industry sources.

"The concept [behind RescueWare] is pretty fascinating," said Steve

Hendrick, vice president of applications, development and deployment with

International Data Corp., an information technology consultancy. "There

are two things it does really well. First, it provides a detailed, intense,

low-level understanding of the legacy system. Second, it takes that information and carves it out into new components. That, to me, is the real value of what's being provided."

The Air Force apparently agrees.

"This is the first technology of its type we've seen, and we're real

excited about being able to use it on this product and other products in

the future," said Leland Stanford, chief of migration at the Technology

Insertion Branch of the Air Force's Standard Systems Group software factory.

The initial $12 million project will last for 30 months; by then, it

will be ready for fielding and worldwide implementation on other mainframe


The Air Force adopted RescueWare after an unsuccessful three-year attempt

to modify a commercial product known as the Government Online Data System.

"In order to provide the functionality required, it would have taken

extensive modifications to develop the missing functionality. By the time

we had finished with the modifications, we wouldn't have had a commercial

product anymore," Stanford said.

Part of the problem with making the Standard Base Supply System Internet-

accessible is that no one knows all of the information or functions stored

on the outdated mainframes.

"In many cases, information technology shops do not know what their

systems do because the systems were built in the last two or three decades

by people who have moved on," said Vivek Wadhwa, chief executive officer

of Relativity Technologies.

Wadhwa said that he has been surprised to find that federal and state

governments are ahead of most companies in transforming mainframe language

into up-to-date, Internet-accessible software.


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