Dream It and Reap

How Turn-Key benefited immediately while transitioning gradually from OpenVMS to Windows

Turn-Key Distribution Systems, a Synergex customer based in Malden, MA, celebrated their 40th business anniversary last year. As they recognized this impressive milestone, they couldn’t help but reflect on how far they have come—particularly in the past year. In fact, Turn-Key’s Director of Product Development Paul McMahon recently took to Synergy-l to share their good news and a brief summary of their journey.

Turn-Key’s application has deep roots in OpenVMS. As McMahon describes it, “We’ve been an OpenVMS shop for so long that we actually had to convert our code from DIBOL to DBL when we became DISC customers (pre-“Synergex”) many, many years ago. We’ve been developing all our code on OpenVMS using a terminal emulator and the EDT editor, and we became very proficient at it.” However, Turn-Key wanted to take advantage of the latest technologies available in Synergy, which weren’t possible on OpenVMS. “After the 2014 Synergy DevPartner Conference, we knew we had to move forward if we were going to be in any position to capitalize on the many advancements being presented in the language,” explains McMahon. Specifically, they wanted to deploy applications on mobile devices under iOS or Android and to update the look and feel of their software to improve the user experience. “Our UI predated the mouse, so we couldn’t take advantage of things like touchscreens,” states McMahon. “In fact, our users often had to memorize keyboard combinations and function keys not even shown on a standard Windows keyboard to perform simple tasks that could have been handled differently with other input devices.” They also wanted to interface directly with the office products and equipment that their customers used regularly from their Windows clients, instead of going through an intermediary.

Turn-Key’s dream scenario was to develop Windows code for a Windows environment that could be ported to other platforms, such as iOS devices. However, the idea of moving from OpenVMS to Windows was daunting. “Several things held us back,” explains McMahon. “Converting everything to Windows was definitely one of them. We also had some concerns about forcing a change on developers who were attuned to using our existing methods. We knew that if we were to make this move, we’d have to ensure the learning curve wouldn’t be so steep that it would hold them back, and there would have to be enough gain in it for them to make it worthwhile. It was a tall order.” They were a long way off from migrating their OpenVMS customers to Windows, and they needed to continue developing OpenVMS software and keep their existing OpenVMS procedures in place to ensure the continued integrity of their code. Another huge concern was managing a Windows server. New hardware issues, constant upgrades, frequent downtime, and the technical training and expertise needed to maintain a Windows server weren’t things they were eager to take on.

So, Turn-Key began researching what options were available to them. They hoped there was a way they could edit in Windows and take advantage of all of the new functionality, while still maintaining their OpenVMS back-end. This would also put them in a better position to develop Windows code when the time came. As a first step, McMahon talked to his Synergex account representative, who was instrumental in helping him realize that what he wanted was indeed possible. Another Synergex customer at the 2015 DevPartner Conference, Chris Blundell of United Natural Foods, Inc., offered some great insight into how his company had tackled the same issue. Turn-Key then engaged the Synergex Professional Services Group to come on site and work with them to develop the procedures, configure the software, and begin moving away from EDT and onto Workbench. They also contracted with another Synergex partner, RiversSoft, to develop some of the scripts that would allow seamless integration between Windows and OpenVMS. And they used Rackspace’s colocation services so they didn’t have to worry about any of their concerns with maintaining a Windows server.

Now, Turn-Key edits all code on Windows. States McMahon, “The change didn’t happen overnight, but it was a lot easier than I anticipated. The new configuration has opened new avenues for managing our software that I had never expected.” And, now that the development team is working under Windows, it’ll be a much smaller step to move from Workbench to Visual Studio when the time comes.

Turn-Key’s new configuration includes the following:

  • A server in the cloud (Rackspace) that can be accessed from anywhere. (“We don’t need to maintain it. We don’t need to support it. We don’t need to patch it,” McMahon proclaims. “I can’t stress enough how worry-free this server is.”)
  • Subversion version control software that tracks all their changes and allows multiple users to maintain the same software at the same time—something they could never do before.
  • Workbench, with access to all of their code for quick navigation, searching, referencing, double-checking, and all the other features that make editing a breeze.
  • A nightly archive of all their software to the cloud. They still back up their OpenVMS servers to tape, but this level of redundancy helps safeguard against mission-critical events.
  • On-demand tools to move source from the cloud server to their local OpenVMS server or vice versa.
  • Nightly batch procedures that compare both systems and ensure everything is in sync.
  • Plus all of their existing procedures and tools for maintaining their customers and ensuring their development changes didn’t affect them at all.

Additional benefits include the ability to more easily hire new developers to add to the team. The pool of available programmers capable of navigating an OpenVMS system and using EDT is very small, and it made hiring difficult. Plus, the learning curve was too steep to train new hires willing to learn the legacy tools. Windows developers are much easier to find—and the colocation server makes it possible to hire developers to work remotely, something they had previously only been able to do in isolated, standalone projects.

McMahon is enthusiastic about the results. “Thank you, Synergex, for making this possible. We’re in a much better position today than we were a year ago, and we’re eager to continue our march forward. There’s nothing holding us back now.”