Migration from OpenVMS to a new Windows platform

Major photo developing company migrates Synergy OpenVMS app to new platform, gives it fresh new UI, dramatically increases performance, and significantly reduces maintenance costs

Harrier LLC is the leading digital photo printing and digital image personalized card and gift production company in the United Kingdom, processing up to one million images per day. Companies such as HP (snapfish.co.uk), Tesco, and Hallmark use Harrier’s highly automated custom production line to fulfill their customers’ orders for everything from photographs to greeting cards, calendars, books, and mugs.

Due to the number of packages produced, Harrier has a considerable logistics and mail sorting operation, which is handled by its Synergy/DE-based application, Abbot. Abbot records incoming orders, communicates with the appropriate workflow systems, produces address labels, calculates least cost mailing mechanisms, interfaces with mail carriers and couriers, initiates progress update messages to be sent to partners, and communicates with internal accounts systems and general reporting.

The Synergy/DE-based Abbot application has evolved with Harrier’s business from a time when it just managed simple photo developing, printing, and dispatching to today’s high-tech, multi-tiered operation. Unfortunately, the application’s green screens and terminal emulation gave it a dated appearance that didn’t accurately reflect its underlying sophistication. More significantly, Abbot was still running on an OpenVMS Alpha cluster, which was expensive to maintain and desperately needed upgrading. The question was whether to upgrade to OpenVMS Integrity or to migrate to Windows. Harrier ultimately decided on Windows, primarily because the majority of its developers and support staff had more Windows experience. “OpenVMS is incredibly robust, which is great, but also a Catch-22 because our developers and support staff have had minimal work to do on it and therefore haven’t kept up their VMS skills,” explains Andrew Bascombe, IT Director at Harrier. “Our team is predominantly skilled with Windows, so we decided to go that route.”

To get the project done quickly, and because their internal team was overcommitted, Harrier called on Synergex Professional Services Group to assist with the migration and training. After upgrading to the current Synergy/DE version, 9.5.1a, they began the platform migration. Soon a number of the programs  that make up Abbot were migrated to Windows, but these still used xfServer to access data on the Alphas. Only when all programs had been migrated to the Windows environment did Harrier move the data, which was a very straightforward process—even in an environment where many corporate customers expect 24×7 service. Harrier negotiated a 36-hour downtime with its customers, and completed the migration ahead of schedule. 

The impact of the migration has been significant. Harrier’s data-intensive applications run considerably  faster in the Windows environment than they had on the old Alpha hardware—up to 200 times faster in some cases. Maintenance costs of the new Windows servers are significantly lower, the new OS is much easier for Harrier’s Windows-experienced team to support 24×7, and the UI is fresh and current. Harrier is now exploring how it can better exploit the benefits of Synergy .NET to more fully integrate with its workflow systems. The initial development in this area is already underway. “With all of these benefits, I would not hesitate to recommend this upgrade path to others, and indeed did so when I met others in a similar situation at the recent SPC in Oxford,” concludes Bascombe.