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Square Pegs, Square Holes

The City and County of Honolulu allow their applications to dictate the platforms on which they run.

Photography by Dana Edmunds


Seamless and Invisible

Concurrent with the move to the new ERP system running on the System p servers, the City and County was also upgrading its aging IBM mainframe system to newer models, including two z9 BCs mentioned earlier, one for production and the other for testing, development, and backup and recovery. Maintaining a mainframe environment to run alongside the new System p environment was crucial, because, according to Bruce, the organization is running more than “100 applications, including voter registration, our older, homegrown financial system—which we have to keep around for historical records—and our new payroll and HR system.”

Because its previous mainframes were so old, there was no direct migration path to the new systems. This was because the City and County was so far behind on not only the hardware, but also on the OS and the underlying port applications, such as CICS*, DB2* and IMS. As a result, the organization again turned to Sirius to help it test its applications in the new environment, using a similar-model mainframe to ensure the applications would still function properly in the upgraded environment. “And they did, with a few tweaks here and there,” Bruce adds.

Good thing, too, because the City and County of Honolulu is responsible for supporting the drivers’ licensing and vehicle registration for the entire state of Hawaii. The organization could have replaced these and its many other homegrown mainframe applications with updated ones that may have run on other platforms, but it decided not to, largely for budgeting reasons. “The estimated cost to replace them was $150 million, and there was simply no way we could afford to spend that kind of money,” Bruce says.

Thanks to the newer IBM mainframe environment, the City and County now has a much more flexible platform, through which it can deliver services to both internal and external customers. It plans on using a WebSphere software-based portal to tap into these applications to allow for online vehicle registration and driving-exam scheduling. Although it’s still in the process of rolling out such functionality to citizen users, Bruce points out “there was no way we could have done that with green screen-driven technology. So we had to come up with an architecture that would allow us to focus on a more portal-based presentation layer.”

Using WebSphere, the City and County can tap into all of its applications and databases, regardless of the platform on which they run. “Our long-range goal is to develop all of our Intranet applications, then, once we’ve made some security changes, Internet applications, and then our Extranet applications, all under a WebSphere, portal-based architecture,” Bruce says.

Only the Beginning

The City and County of Honolulu’s IT overhaul is far from over, even though it’s already deployed more than 200 applications and systems while Bruce, formerly a local IT-focused public-radio host, has been with the city. Mayor Hannemann recently won a second term. With his focus still on fiscal accountability and transparency, the DIT staff are keeping the mayor’s “more online and less in line” mantra in mind.

To that end, it’s looking at “WebSphere as a granddaddy for all our portals—and everything moving forward is going to be portal based,” Bruce notes. Of course, the System z and System p servers are integral to that goal, as is the organization’s newly revamped storage environment, which now also includes an IBM DS8100. Using two IBM SAN Volume Controllers (SVCs), it’s connecting all of its servers—System z, System p and System x servers running Windows, and their associated applications—to what Bruce characterizes as “a single, standard-storage platform.”

But this may be the only part of the City and County of Honolulu IT infrastructure that is based on a standard platform. As the organization moves forward, it will follow Bruce’s call for allowing the application to dictate the platform. As he suggests, other organizations shouldn’t “try to force an application on a platform. That’s like hammering a square peg into a round hole. It simply won’t work, especially when you’re talking about large enterprises like ours.”

Bruce points out none of this would have been possible without his support staff members, who–while initially reluctant to adopt the System p platform and integrate it into the IT environment–have stepped up to the plate. As he remarks, “My staff has done incredible things. We’re now a leader in the nation in terms of interoperable communications between first responders, who are all now wirelessly connected in real time back to the applications here. In fact, we just rolled out an application that allows ambulances to wirelessly send patient data to the hospital while they’re on the their way. And that’s only one aspect of what we’re tackling, and tackling well.”


Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at



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