Roadway drives legacy apps onto the Web

Information technology managers at Roadway Express Inc. knew that the “green screen” interfaces in mainframe programs and the HTML used in Web site design don’t mix very easily.

So when the Akron, Ohio-based trucking company decided to make its enterprise legacy database management system accessible to users through a browser-based interface, its IT managers planned their strategy carefully.

“We felt that our system, the CCA Model 204 database, was perfectly capable of handling the demand from the world at large,” says Gary Bailey, manager of applications development at Roadway. The goal was to develop an access point for users trying to connect from outside the corporate hub.

“The key was how to maximize the investment we had in the system – not reinventing the system, but reusing it,” Bailey says.

Everything the company knows about each shipment, including payment status, is run off one IBM mainframe application, Computer Corporation of America’s (CCA) Model 204. Roadway has centralized its entire business on this transaction-based enterprise database since 1988.

Built in the 1960s, the Model 204 industrial-strength software runs on IBM’s OS/390 operating system and compatible mainframe systems. It can perform query and transaction processing on MVS, virtual machine and virtual extended storage systems. The software is also designed to allow rapid access to large-scale databases and to support parallel processing with a multiprocessor option. Model 204 is used by customers with terabytes of data and thousands of concurrent online users, according to Framingham, Mass.-based CCA.

Model 204 stores all of Roadway’s mission-critical freight operations data, including customer, dispatch, freight shipment, billing, shipment tracking, invoicing and computerized rate information, according to the company. The system tracks more than 9 million shipments, houses 500,000 customer records and processes more than 2 million transactions per day. Roadway handles 65,000 shipments every day using Model 204. The trick for the company was finding a way to connect the database to Unix workstations from Sun Microsystems Inc. The workstations run Roadway’s nondatabase applications, including its Web applications.

Hoping it wouldn’t take long to teach experienced coders new tricks, the company decided to train its mainframe programmers in HTML.

The next step was for Roadway’s mainframe programmers and its Web design group to build a system that allows Internet users to directly access the mainframe application to schedule and track shipments.

By eliminating middleware on the mainframe, the development team ensured that Roadway’s legacy applications would continue to process up to 1,800 transactions per second.

Installing Janus Web Server from Sirius Software Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., on top of Model 204 “allowed us to reuse our existing transportation management systems and administrative systems, such as invoicing and reporting, without having to rewrite our suite of applications,” says Dave Pavlich, director of e-commerce technologies and applications development at Roadway. “Janus Web allows us to extend our existing applications written in M204 user language to browser-based presentation layers.”

Seamless Links

Pavlich described the way the system works: The proxy server simply delivers HTTP requests to the Janus Web server and then returns HTTP output to users’ browsers, without incurring the cost of writing or buying middleware that would sit between the proxy and the mainframe. The system saved Roadway the expense of writing applications that run on its front-end Web servers or proxy servers, he says.

“Our approach saved us time and money in the initial development of” Pavlich says. “We did not have to replicate our databases, and we were able to use existing IT staff to build Web-based applications.”

The link between the mainframe and Unix platforms is so seamless that users have no idea they’re plugged into a technology Roadway has used for more than 14 years, according to the company. Moreover, the cost to Roadway of creating Web access was low – less than US$1 million.

Roadway’s customers seem to be satisfied with the results.

“This is a value-added [service] for us,” says Paul Blissenbach, transportation manager at Coldwater Creek Inc., a Sandpoint, Idaho-based multichannel retailer of women’s apparel, gifts, jewelry, home goods and accessories. “It gives us the ability to generate reports on our inbound and outbound shipments. Our transportation department needs to ensure that our merchandise is coming in on time and whether our vendor companies are complying with our routing instructions.”

T.J. Johnson, manager of transportation at Freeman Transportation in Dallas, says, “No [carrier’s] Web site is as sophisticated as Roadway’s. That’s one of the reasons we’ve retained Roadway.”

Donald Broughton, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, agrees that Roadway is offering its customers more value for their money. But, he says, other carriers such as Yellow Corp. in Overland Park, Kan., and ABF Freight System Inc. in Fort Smith, Ark., offer similar services. And more companies should follow suit if they want to stay competitive, he adds.

“Everyone not doing it will be left behind,” Broughton says.