Court ditches mainframe for Windows system

Debbie Brasher cut the mainframe cord and she is not looking back. The director of technology for the Superior Court Stanislaus County System in Modesto, Calif., has moved on to a Windows-based infrastructure and a set of Web-based applications to host the court’s case management system, which is used to manage civil and criminal cases.

The new computing architecture already has drawn the attention of the California court system and one day might be the standard throughout the state.

While Brasher isn’t so brash with her predictions on the impact of her work, she knows that what she and her staff have built is pulling them into the new millennium, and providing the means to update and expand what was a dying mainframe infrastructure.

“Once we got off the mainframe, we were able to spend more money to enhance what we already had,” Brasher says. Money was the root of the problem, she says.

“My last mainframe bill (before migrating) was US$1.2 million, which was US$300,000 more than the previous year,” she says. The money was paid to the county for licensing, programming and transaction time used on the county’s mainframe. On top of that, the mainframe was shared among agencies and supported 5,000 users. The county also controlled the programmers, which required Brasher to negotiate for their time.

So Brasher bolted to Windows, replacing the court’s connection to a token-ring network, bringing nearly 20 Windows 2000 servers in-house and investing her cost savings to hire two programmers and an outside consultant to help convert the mainframe application to Windows.

“I initially reduced my $1.2 million yearly mainframe cost by $500,000,” Brasher says.

The savings also let her focus on adding six new applications to automate court procedures, and to consolidate the court’s workflow into one distributed computing environment that includes Windows XP clients and Cisco 6500, 3700 and 2600 routers.

Instead of struggling to maintain the case management system, which consisted of 785 separate COBOL programs, consulting firm Enterprise Network Consultants used Fujitsu Ltd.’s NetCOBOL for .Net tools to convert the IBM CICS application to run on Windows. The firm also built a Web-based interface to mimic the mainframe application, replacing the mainframe emulation previously used on PCs and reducing end-user training costs.

Then Brasher’s new programmers began creating the fresh Windows applications, set to roll out last month, that will bring previously paper-based procedures online. Those procedures, which include collecting fines and distributing information to law enforcement, will share data with the case management system.

While the goal is automation, another benefit is that the court has cut its transaction-processing time from 60 seconds on average down to 10. The next big infrastructure enhancement came in March when the county rolled out Active Directory as part of an upgrade to Windows Server 2003 to support 250 clerks, judges, managers and administrators.

“We are moving for the security, better tracking and access control,” says Brasher, who admits the complexity of the directory prevented the court from rolling it out initially. In fact, the court needed three tries at building its directory tree before it got it right.

The court also is moving its databases from Oracle to Microsoft SQL Server 2000 to support a number of the new applications it is developing.

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